Top prospect Joey Gallo delivers historic performance in MLB debut
At least for the moment, Adrian Beltre's thumb injury has a silver lining for the Rangers. Rather than muddle through with their utility infielder options at the hot corner, the team decided to take the wraps off power-hitting Joey Gallo, calling up the top prospect to make his major league debut against the White Sox in Arlington. The move paid instant dividends, as the 21-year-old slugger went 3-for-4 with four RBIs in a 15–2 drubbing of Chicago via a single, a double and the type of towering two-run homer that has become his calling card in the minors.
Batting sixth against Chicago starter Jeff Samardzija, Gallo made his first plate appearance in a wild first inning as the Rangers scalded ball after ball at a White Sox defense that looked shakier than a baby giraffe on roller skates. Leftfielder Melky Cabrera and rightfielder Avisail Garcia both made tumbling catches to open the frame and then Prince Fielder, Mitch Moreland and Elvis Andrus (batting fifth, for no good reason) each singled on hard-hit balls to bring up Gallo with the bases loaded. He kept the line moving with a hard-hit smash that White Sox first baseman Adam LaRoche couldn't stop:
Generously scored a hit, the shot brought home two runs, and Gallo himself came around to score the Rangers’ fourth run as they sent all nine batters to the plate. The White Sox answered with two in the top of the third, and after Samardzija issued a one-out walk in the bottom of the frame, Gallo broke out the heavy artillery:
The home run was estimated at 430 feet by ESPN Stats & Info, and Gallo still wasn't done. In his third plate appearance, with Samardzija stuck on the mound, sweating out a 7–2 deficit of his own making, the new kid missed a second home run by mere inches, settling for a double off the right centerfield wall. In his fourth PA, facing Dan Jennings with the bases loaded in the sixth inning, he struck out swinging at a breaking ball in the dirt, and even then he got an ovation from the 27,558 fans at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington. In his fifth PA, facing Hector Noesi in the eighth inning with Andrus on third and a 12–2 lead, he worked a walk, which was quickly followed by Carlos Corporan's three-run homer.
In all, Gallo became the 63rd player since 1914 to reach base four times in his major league debut and the first since the Rockies’ Rafael Ortega did so against the Dodgers on Sept. 30, 2012. More impressively, he became the 20th player since 1914 to rack up at least seven total bases in his debut. The most recent player to do so prior to Gallo is J.P. Arencibia, who holds the record with 11 total bases (two homers, a single and a double) for the Blue Jays against the Rays on Aug. 7, 2010.
The only other active major leaguer to debut with at least seven total bases is the Cubs’ Starlin Castro, via a triple and homer against the Rays on May 7, 2010. The only Ranger to do so is George Wright, who singled, doubled and homered against the Indians on April 10, 1982, while the only Hall of Famer to have done it is Willie McCovey, who singled and tripled twice for the Giants against the Phillies on July 30, 1959, kick-starting a .354/.429/.656 showing that won him NL Rookie of the Year honors despite playing in just 52 games.
Gallo has his work cut out to join McCovey, but he’s no ordinary rookie. He entered the year ranked No. 6 among Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects list. A supplemental first-round pick in 2012, he grew up in Las Vegas, where he took instruction from Kris Bryant's father and played on the same Little League team as Bryce Harper, who's 13 months older. Here is a photo circa 2002 that Gallo posted in January of 2014:
Gallo made an auspicious professional debut in 2012, launching 18 homers in 43 Arizona League games and four more in 16 games at Low A Spokane. He followed that up by hitting .245/.334/.610 with 40 homers in 2013, 38 of them coming at A level Hickory, then hit .271/.394/.615 with 42 homers last year, split evenly between High A Myrtle Beach and Double A Frisco. He also struck out 179 times, once in every three plate appearances, and with the Rangers set at the hot corner with Beltre, the organization sent him back to Frisco to shore up his game. Here's what Keith Law, who ranked him 11th on ESPN's prospect list, had to say about the 6'5", 230-pound behemoth:
Smashing car windows at the Futures Game was just another day at the office for Gallo, whose 80 raw power and proclivity to swing and miss make him the game's preeminent sonic-boom-or-bust candidate: If he hits a little, he'll be a star. Finishing second in minor league baseball this year with 42 homers (one behind Kris Bryant), Gallo has more pure raw power, but he isn't as advanced as a hitter, and still struggled with contact after a midseason promotion to Double A. He did make a significant adjustment from 2013 to 2014, tightening up his command of the strike zone. He'll always swing and miss, but he was doing so at pitches (notably fastballs) within the zone less frequently in High A to start the 2014 season.
Gallo is improving at third base but is just so big that he may end up having to move to first, which would be a shame given a grade-80 arm that had him sitting in the low to mid-90s as a pitcher in high school. No one in the minors swings as hard or generates as much force on contact as Gallo does, and if he can just hit .230–.240 in the majors he'll hit 40–45 homers, if not more, with enough patience thrown in to be a 5-WAR player on his bat alone.
Gallo hit .314/.425/.636 with nine homers in 146 PA at Frisco, a performance that despite his 34% strikeout rate had Rangers general manager Jon Daniels poised to promote him to Triple A Round Rock on Monday. With Beltre's sprained thumb coming amid a 10–2 run that pushed the team above .500 for the first time since June 6, 2014, Daniels and company decided that it would be a good opportunity to expose Gallo to the big leagues, with the understanding that the move is likely a temporary one. Via The Dallas Morning News's Evan Grant:
“The deciding factor was that we are really confident in the environment, the culture and the clubhouse,” Daniels said. “It’s a good spot for a young player. We have a lot of confidence in our staff and in the value sitting next to Adrian Beltre and Prince Fielder and learning.”
…“Even if he really struggles, which is possible for a young player jumping from Double A to the majors, he’ll be better long-term for the learning experience,” Daniels said. “He will have a better idea of knowing some of the things he will have to work on. … This will help his development.”
As noted on Monday, the 36-year-old Beltre, who is hitting just .257/.294/.408 overall, had followed up a frigid April (.205/.267/.337) with a solid performance in May (.293/.313/.455) and has played typically strong defense. He's coming off a 7.0-WAR season and is making $16 million this year, with $18 million due next year, so it would appear unlikely that the Rangers will trade him to make room for Gallo at this juncture, particularly if they remain in contention. Gallo has dabbled at leftfield and first base, but with Fielder, Moreland, Josh Hamilton and Delino DeShields (whose father was traded for Pedro Martinez on the day Gallo was born) drawing from the same pool of at-bats, it would probably take an injury or extended slump to open up playing time for the rookie, at least beyond Beltre's DL stint.
One game into Gallo's major league career, such talk is premature. The next couple of weeks may well see pitchers find the holes in his swing, and he may still have work to do in Triple A, but for one night that he and his parents will remember for the rest of their lives, he looked ready to join pals Harper and Bryant among the game’s most talented, and most watchable, young sluggers.