After putting up some eye-popping numbers in 2013 at Low Single-A Hickory (38 HR, 78 RBI, .944 OPS), Joey Gallo has taken his power-hitting prowess to the High-A Carolina League.
Through his first 50 games with Myrtle Beach, the 20-year-old slugging third baseman and current Rangers’ No. 5 prospect according to Baseball America has picked up right where he left off last season.
Gallo is leading the Carolina League in home runs (18), RBI (40), total bases (121) and OPS (1.174) while ranking third with a .315 average.
Of course, considering the numbers he posted in 2013 in the South Atlantic League, seeing him off to such a good start, especially with his power numbers, isn’t a big surprise to anyone who follows this 6-foot-5 slugger closely.
"Yeah, they’ve been going great so far. I just want to go out there and help the team win. Things have gone well so far, so hopefully they stay that way," Gallo said.
But the rub on this young slugger has always been his high strikeout total. He whiffed a total of 165 times in 2013 while drawing just 48 walks.
However, at the 50-game mark this year, he has fanned just 58 times while already drawing 44 free passes, an uptick in his walk rate he attributes to one simple yet inescapable fact.
"I think last year, it was kind of a tough year. I was just being way too aggressive. So this year, I’ve had a little bit more of a plan. Pitchers, I guess you could say, are pitching around me a little bit too. That probably does help with the walk numbers, but I think I’m a little more disciplined than I was in the past," Gallo said.
Naturally, he has heard all of the discussion about how important it is to lower his strikeout numbers. But instead of dwelling on that part of his offensive game, he sees his high strikeout total a bit differently.
Still, that doesn’t mean he hasn’t taken steps and isn’t continuing to do things to lower that number on a consistent basis.
"Yeah, it’s a little overblown I think. Obviously, you kind of look at how baseball works now and there’s a lot of strikeouts in the game. You always hear about all the numbers going up," Gallo said.
He added: "To me, I feel like if you can just hit around .300, .280 or whatever and just get on base by drawing walks, it really doesn’t matter how you get out. I’ve been working hard to get those numbers down and not strike out as much, but when you hit for power it’s kind of tough. They kind of go hand in hand."
To date, he has played 211 games since being a supplemental pick in the 2012 draft. And besides drawing more walks this season, another change in 2014, although relatively minor, is that he has been the Pelicans’ Designated Hitter for three games, a new experience but one he welcomes.
"It’s good," Gallo said of being an occasional DH. "It gives you a little bit of a rest. You don’t have to worry about going out there and playing defense and you just kind of worry about hitting. It’s kind of tough because you’re not really into the game as much as you are if you’re on the field with every pitch. I think my worst games are when I was DHing. I like them but I don’t think I really benefit from them too much."
And like most position players who prefer playing the field to being a DH, he admits it’s a bit easier to lose focus when you’re not a position player.
"Yeah, you’re just in every pitch, obviously paying attention. If you’re on the bench, the whole time you’re talking to people. You’re not as into the game. You’re into it, but it’s a little bit different than being on the field." Gallo said.
Gallo spent his offseason in his hometown of Las Vegas and his work with five-time All-Star and 2000 American League MVP Jason Giambi has been well documented, and he has carried all he learned from Giambi forward into this season, his second full year in pro ball, and feels all that newfound knowledge has been instrumental in his strong start.
Specifically, he credits Giambi’s advice regarding his plate approach and swing path as being big reasons why he’s been able to get to inside pitches more consistently by being ready earlier in his at-bats.
"It’s tremendous," Gallo said of his relationship with Giambi. "He’s been great to me. He’s a huge mentor. We spent almost every single day in the offseason together. We’d work out, go hit, go eat and just talk. To have a guy like that, it’s pretty special. Not many people have a source like that they can go to when things are going bad or even when things are going good. It was definitely a great experience for me."
And considering the strong start that he’s off to and the fact that he’s a near-lock to be a Carolina League All-Star much like he was last season in the SALLY League, the inevitable discussion about just how long he’ll remain in High-A before he makes the jump to Double-A Frisco is already in full swing.
But instead of getting caught up in such speculation, Gallo is savoring the experience of playing on a first-place team with the Pelicans. Heading into Thursday, Myrtle Beach was leading the Carolina League’s South Division with a 34-17 record, putting them some 7 Â½ games ahead of current second-place Salem.
So, he figures if he gets moved up to the RoughRiders, that’s fine. Then again, staying in Myrtle Beach and getting a shot at helping them win the Carolina League title wouldn’t be a bad thing either.
"I have no idea (if I’ll get promoted). We’ll see. As I said before, if I get moved up, that’s great and I’ll work my butt off up there. And if I don’t, I keep playing here and hopefully we win a ring here," Gallo said. "We got a really good team here, so I’m excited about what we got right now. I think we’ll probably clinch this first half here, so I’ll go with that if I stay here. That’s fine."