Rangers' Gallo Enjoys Historic Summer In AZL

After signing his professional contract, Joey Gallo made the rounds at The Ballpark in Arlington, meeting Rangers executives and players.

Floating on cloud nine, Gallo walked on the field during batting practice and gawked at slugger Josh Hamilton effortlessly swatting upper-deck moonshots, just as he one day hopes to do.

He was in heaven. Until he saw Rangers pitching coach Mike Maddux.

"Hey Joey," Maddux said. "I hear you can throw 100 mph and you don't want to pitch?"   

Nearly always self-assured, Gallo's brimming confidence wilted. He carefully cleared his throat before responding to the watchful guardian of a pitching staff that had advanced to the World Series two straight years.

"I signed as a position player, sir," Gallo said.

The 18-year-old Gallo felt the pressure mount as he waited what seemed like an eternity for Maddux's affirmation. Then his father nudged him.   

"I said, 'He's just kidding, Joey,' " Anthony Gallo said. "I've never seen him turn red like that."

Joey could again breathe easy, and concentrate on doing what he's always loved—swinging the bat—despite being the son of a pitching coach.

"Ever since he picked up a Wiffle ball bat at age 3, Joey always wanted to hit," Anthony said. "He pitched because he could throw hard, but hitting was his first love."

Gallo started at third base as a freshman for Bishop Gorman High in Las Vegas, a program coming off three straight state championships, and hit 21 home runs in his first two seasons before taking his game to a new level.

"My junior year, I started to hit the weight room and began to dedicate myself," Gallo said.

He became a gym rat, working out under the supervision of teammate Johnny Field's uncle at 4 a.m. Running in sand pits, TRX suspension training and explosive plyometrics began to fill Gallo's lean 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame. Flexibility coaches trimmed his 60-yard dash time to 6.9 seconds. Translating these physical gains to hitting improvements, Gallo worked with four-time National League batting champ Bill Madlock.

The lefty-hitting Gallo, who took Greg Maddux's daughter to the prom, led the country with 25 homers as a junior.

A fixture on the showcase circuit, Gallo became a decorated amateur, starting for USA Baseball's 18-and-under national team and hitting the 10th-longest homer in Petco Park history during the Perfect Game All-American Game.

"I've been scouting since 1996 and Joey probably has the most power I've ever seen," Rangers scout Todd Guggiana said.

Worth The Risk

Going out on top, Gallo helped the Gaels (40-3) seize a seventh straight state title his senior year, earning All-America honors with a .509/.628/1.167 line, 21 homers and 13 steals. With 67 career homers, he became Nevada's home run king, placing him sixth on the all-time high school list.

Gallo also posted a 1.54 ERA on the mound, threw a no-hitter and notched 23 strikeouts in 14 innings. Scouts remained enthralled by his high-90s velocity, and many evaluators preferred him as a pitcher. Though some scouts questioned his hit tool, Gallo remained steadfast to his commitment as a hitter entering the draft.

With teams unsure how the new draft rules would affect signing-bonus demands of high schoolers, Gallo, a first-round talent, lasted until the 39th pick.

"We didn't think he was going to be there when we picked, but were very excited when he was there," Guggiana said. "We thought he was a top-15 talent."

Gallo's tantalizing upside fits the Rangers' organizational modus operandi.

"The philosophy we use in Texas is focusing on upside," Rangers scouting director Kip Fagg said. "We take some chances and roll the dice a little bit, but those are the guys that make an impact at the big league level. We think Joey has a chance to hit in the middle of the lineup and impact our club with homers and driving in runs."

Perhaps no player has benefitted from the new, earlier July 15 signing deadline more than Gallo.

Previously, Gallo likely would have waited to sign his $2.25 million deal—commensurate with the 15th pick and $925,000 over slot—at the mid-August deadline and would have been lucky to get 18 professional at-bats. Instead Gallo took advantage of the early deadline and shattered the Rookie-level Arizona League record with 18 home runs, a total which surpassed two teams' entire output.

"When you see a guy hit balls that far in batting practice, like over the batter's eye, the quote is 5 o'clock hitter," AZL Rangers hitting coach Justin Mashore said, "and when Joey started doing it at 7 you realized he's different."

Rarified Air

Gallo homered every 8.3 at-bats this season—a rate no qualified minor leaguer at any level in modern times has matched. To put his dominance in further perspective, only Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire surpassed that threshold in the majors.

In 43 Arizona League games, Gallo batted .293/.435/.733, and his .440 isolated slugging percentage also set a league record.

But Gallo also struck out in 27 percent of his plate appearances, affirming scouts' concerns of his hit tool.

"I was trying to do too much, hit a homer every at-bat," Gallo said. "Sometimes I get too anxious and chase balls I shouldn't swing at . . . Sometimes I tend to jump at the ball instead of letting it come to me. We've worked on staying patient and keeping my weight back."

Gallo's strikeouts were products of an overaggressive approach, not an undiscerning eye, as he walked in 19 percent of his plate appearances. As word of Gallo's prodigious power spread, he faced a deluge of breaking balls.

"There were lots of at-bats when he didn't see anything in the zone and didn't see any fastballs," AZL Rangers manager Corey Ragsdale said. "Even when it's 2-0, he still saw curveballs. He got frustrated not seeing hittable pitches and expanded his zone."

He also has improved defensively, but will need to make further strides.

"The glove was better than I thought it'd be," Ragsdale said. "A lot of his errors were throwing because he needs to get his feet in better position and improve his pre-pitch preparation."

Only one 6-foot-5 player in major league history, Troy Glaus, has started more than half his team's games in a season at third base. But the Rangers say Gallo can defy the odds.

"The biggest thing is how he maintains his foot speed and range," Fagg said. "But I think he has a very good chance to stay at third."

Texas promoted Gallo to short-season Spokane in August, and he batted .214/.343/.464 with four home runs, 11 walks and 26 strikeouts in 56 at-bats.

"He has a very good eye and a chance to hit for some average, but he will strikeout a little bit," Fagg said. "What he is doing now is what we envision him doing at the big league level."