'I Know I Can Be a Great Player'; How Joey Gallo Transformed Into a Franchise Cornerstone
As with any high-end prospect, the Rangers patiently waited for Joey Gallo to breakout and become the player they expected him to be. In 2019, we all got a taste of what Joey Gallo looks like as an All Star, and a potential MVP candidate.
After back-to-back seasons of hitting at least 40 home runs and batting barely above the Mendoza line, Texas Rangers slugger Joey Gallo turned a corner in 2019. A big one.
In 2017-2018, Gallo slashed .208/.322/.516/.838, with a combined 81 home runs and 172 RBIs. In 2019, Gallo drastically improved those numbers, slashing .253/.389/.598/.986, along with 22 home runs and 49 RBIs in only 70 games.
Those 70 games in 2019 were all Gallo would be able to play. An oblique injury sidelined Gallo for three weeks in June and a broken hamate bone ended Gallo's season in July. Just when Rangers fans were just getting a taste of what Gallo could be, it was taken away. It sucks, plain and simple. For the fans. For the Rangers. And, of course, for Joey.
Gallo raised his batting average by almost 50 points while increasing his Home Runs Per At-Bat (HR/AB) and managed to still walk at a high rate. These are monumental steps forward, transforming from a traditional "all-or-nothing" hitter to an MVP-caliber player. Even Gallo was taken aback by the results.
"In the first half of 2019, I was pretty good. I was actually like, 'holy shit,'" Gallo said. "I'd look at the scoreboard and see my numbers and think that was pretty insane."
So why the sudden success? What clicked? Gallo's potential had always been there, but what unlocked the gate to a vastly higher next level? A new team philosophy by new manager Chris Woodward opened Gallo's eyes to an entirely different view on himself.
"They brought a positivity to me and a confidence in me," Gallo said. "The first time I talked to Luiz [Ortiz], he was like, 'You can be an all star or MVP if you want.' After the first conversation, that's pretty special for coaches to come in and have that high of praise for you. For me, the confidence and positivity they bring to the team is one of the biggest things that helps us as players go out and play the game and trust ourselves."
From the get-go, Gallo broke out in 2019. While he still struck out a lot, his overall approach at the plate changed. He wasn't chasing the pitches nearly as often as he normally would before. For April and May, Gallo was the Rangers best player. The way-too-early discussions even had him as a potential MVP candidate.
Then on June 1st, it all changed.
In the plate appearance after he hit a home run, he felt his oblique tighten up. Manager Chris Woodward thought about letting his slugger stay in the game, but inevitably pulled him out. Gallo was subsequently put on the Injured List, but he didn't allow it to defeat him.
"I was definitely nervous after the oblique injury," Gallo said. "I missed about three weeks, so I was nervous if I could come back and be able to be the same guy and have to change my swing. With an oblique, it doesn't fully go away for a while and it was still lingering, so I had to make some adjustments with my swing. But as soon as I picked up the bat and started swinging again, I felt perfectly fine. Everything was falling into place the way it was. For me, mentally, I was always thinking about my swing and hitting, even when I was hurt."
Gallo came back and picked up right where he left off, even with any changes he had to make after the oblique injury. However, his season ended when he broke his hamate bone.
"With the hamate, I knew I was going to be out a while, so it was tougher," Gallo said. "When I started getting back to playing a little bit at the end of the year, my swing was definitely a little bit different. That's what is going to be good about spring training – getting back on that track of where I was earlier in the year because I did miss a pretty good amount of time last year."
For Gallo, it's now about taking what he did well last year and building off of it to out together a successful 2020. That's not easy to do. He's coming off a lot of time away from the game and trying to find that same rhythm that made him so dangerous from the outset of 2019.
The Rangers have decided to cement Gallo in right field for 2020. With them trading away Nomar Mazara, that paved the way for Gallo to become the right fielder, which fits his skill set much better than center field, and will hopefully aid in keeping him healthy. That, along with carrying over the positive mentality that untapped his potential, is the key for Gallo going into 2020.
"For me, it's nice to have one position now. Offensively, I think that helps a lot," Gallo said. "I had a really good first half, I made a lot of adjustments. So now, teams are going to make adjustments back to me. That's the beauty about baseball. For me, this year is going to be different because I know I might get pitched a little bit differently. I know I'm going to be more targeted than I was last year. Last year, I kind of snuck up on some people. They knew I was a power hitter, but they didn't know I could do all of these different things. That's what I want to try to continue this year. I want to keep that same mentality I had last year and make the adjustments that I can on the fly, implement them in-game from at-bat to at-bat."
The 2019 season opened up many people's eyes, but it also opened up Gallo's own eyes. It's one thing to think you can be a good player, but to see it translate onto the field is a whole other thing in itself. The biggest difference about Gallo now as opposed to previous offseasons is he knows and believes now that he can be the player he wants to be.
"I know I can be that player," Gallo said. "It's tough to do at this level. I think the way baseball is, sometimes you get hot and things go your way and sometimes they don't. But, I know I'm a talented player. I know I can do almost everything on the field. I know if I can stay focused, work hard, and keep my mind steady, there's nothing I can't do on the field. I started to believe that last year, where before I used to doubt myself."
With some of the other veterans moving on, Gallo has also willingly taken on a leadership role with the team. While he's not as vocal as Elvis Andrus or newcomer Todd Frazier, there are obviously other ways to lead.
"I try to lead in just being yourself and working hard," Gallo said. "I don't like to get on people unless you really have to. For me, I want people to watch me play the game say, 'Wow, I want to play the game like that guy.' I want to be a good representation of the Rangers. Over time, I think you start to develop more vocal leadership, but for me, I just play the game hard and treat everybody with respect and I think that goes a long way."
For Gallo, 2019 was only the beginning. He's not trying to figure himself out anymore. He knows what he can do. Having that kind of belief in yourself is easier said than done and some Major Leaguers never get it. Couple that with the ability to get on base, hit the ball 500 feet, and play stellar defense? You've got a recipe for a superstar.
"I know I can be a great player, so now I'm going to just do it."
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