Joey Gallo has not progressed at the rate the Texas Rangers would like. The team has kept their faith in the former top prospect, but would an unfulfilled 2017 be the end of Gallo as a Ranger?
There’s no better feeling than showing up to spring training knowing you have a roster spot on the big league squad. Veterans such as Adrian Beltre and Mike Napoli have earned the right to progress as they choose throughout the spring. Then there are players such as Nomar Mazara who will enjoy that feeling for the first time in his career. But those who don’t have that comfort, such as Joey Gallo, face the harsh reality that they could begin the season in the minor leagues, despite the majors being so close to within reach.
At one point, the Rangers had expectations for their former top prospect to be the next premier power hitter in MLB. Although his ceiling remains very high, it’s evident the expectations for Joey Gallo are gradually fading.
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After being drafted 39th overall in the 2012 amateur draft, Gallo quickly impressed in the professional ranks. He quietly knocked 38 home runs in his first season at Single-A Hickory in 2013. He followed his 2013 campaign by hitting a combined 40 home runs between High-A ball and Double-A in 2014. Texas Rangers fans were well aware of Gallo’s abilities by this time, however, it was his performance at the 2014 Futures Game that generated MLB-wide awareness.
Gallo earned MVP honors in the Futures Game. He launched a game-winning home run in the bottom of the sixth inning to secure a win for the USA team. His power was on display during the game, but even more so prior to the game. In batting practice, Gallo hit a towering home run that traveled beyond the right field bleachers (it takes a shot to do so at Target Field). The ball’s path was finally disrupted by a Chevy pickup truck in the right field concourse. Yes, it got All-Star weekend buzzing a little earlier than usual.
All roads led to his red carpet major league debut which occurred on June 2, 2015. Wow, did he impress! Joey Gallo went 3-for-4 with four RBI against the Chicago White Sox, including a moon shot home run. Everyone was raving about his storybook debut, including his teammates. Each fan who walked away from the stadium or turned off their TV that night had the belief that this prized prospect would live up to his hype.
Unfortunately, Joey Gallo’s big league impact has been delayed. He struggled immediately after his rocking debut. He quickly leaked his rather apparent swing-and-miss issues. In an additional 119 at-bats with the Rangers in 2015, 57 of them resulted in a strikeout. Gallo showed a legitimate inability to hit the high and inside fastball. As we all know, baseball is a game of adjustments. Once opposing pitchers caught wind of this noticeable weakness, Gallo only saw high and inside fastballs, making him look very inferior to his competition. Naturally, Texas sent him back to the minor leagues as it was clear he had some things to work on.
Joey Gallo had another stint with the big league club in 2016, but it was not notable. The slugger endured only 25 at-bats that go-around. He slashed .040/.200/.160 throughout, and was essentially just a power bat off the bench for Texas. It’s unfair to judge him off 25 at-bats, but still, he certainly didn’t raise any eyebrows over that time.
Here we are in the early stages of spring training. The Texas Rangers finally completed their signing of 1B/DH Mike Napoli. A great signing for the team, but a clear disruption for Joey Gallo. Gallo is expected to compete for an opening day roster spot. While Napoli will start and play as often as possible, his signing does not shut the door on Gallo’s opening day chances.
Gallo is moderately versatile. He can play either infield corner or outfield corner, and can obviously be a DH. The Rangers still have a lot to figure out, especially at first base and DH. Napoli will spend time at each position, but there is a plethora of players who could play whichever position Napoli is not. Joey Gallo, Ryan Rua, Jurickson Profar, Josh Hamilton and James Loney are among them. Spring training performances will be key in determining which player can play opposite Napoli. Each has a fighting chance; however, the less-experienced Gallo may be on the outside looking in.
If Gallo once again finds himself in the minor leagues to start the season, it may be time for both him and the Rangers to reflect. The Texas Rangers have protected Gallo with their lives. His name has come up in countless trade proposals, but Texas has not budged. They clearly have great faith in their former top prospect. The Rangers want to keep him and they want him to have a great career in a Rangers uniform. But will that happen? And how long should the Rangers wait?
It’s difficult not to compare Gallo’s situation to a former Rangers prospect, Chris Davis. Sure, everyone knows Chris Davis as the elite power hitter for the Baltimore Orioles, the man nicknamed “Crush Davis.” However, few might remember the period of time in which Davis was sputtering with the Texas Rangers. While a member of the Rangers organization, Chris Davis was known to absolutely dominate the minor leagues, but then falter each time he was promoted to the major leagues. Sound familiar? In a much shorter sample, Joey Gallo has essentially done the same. He has overpowered the minors, but has been over-matched in the majors.
Gallo’s situation doesn’t just compare to Davis’s, but also his style of play. Chris Davis is an all-or-nothing hitter. He’ll hit 35+ home runs every year, while striking out over 200 times. Although unwatchable at times, Davis is part of a new wave seen in MLB. Teams are okay with all-or-nothing hitters. Many teams feel production through power outweighs the lesser production of swings and misses. Chris Davis has become a major weapon for the Orioles, and a feared hitter across the league. Perhaps someday Joey Gallo can amount to a similar player as Davis.
I doubt the Rangers would have any issue if Joey Gallo becomes a Chris Davis-esque player. That being said, can they hold on to Gallo for long enough to see him possibly become that? They clearly did not do that with Chris Davis.
Gallo is still only 23 years old. There is plenty of time left to prove himself. Last year’s National League MVP, Kris Bryant, did not debut until age 23. Bryant, however, was on a major upswing in the minor leagues at the time of his call-up. The clock is not ticking on Gallo’s career, just maybe with the Texas Rangers. The key for a young player is progression. Joey Gallo simply has not progressed at the rate the Rangers would like over the last couple of seasons. Spring training will be an important time for Gallo. The team needs to see some positive strides from their former top prospect. If they don’t, Jon Daniels may be more willing to pick up the phone for proposed trades involving Joey Gallo.