By Mark Miller
Just over two years ago, Joey Gallo was a senior at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas. One of the nation’s top baseball prospects, he was used to college recruiters and professional scouts watching his every move.
With a right arm that could throw a ball hard and accurately, everyone thought he’d make a great pitcher. Trouble was, the 6-foot-5, 205-pounder had other ideas.
Since someone that height normally is too tall to play the infield, most Major League teams shied away from him in the 2012 amateur draft. Not the Texas Rangers, however, who picked him 39th in the supplemental round and reportedly paid him a $2.25 million bonus.
In the nearly three seasons since then, Gallo has worked hard to justify his employer’s investment. If his quick ascent up the minor league ladder is any indication, they are pleased so far.
“Most teams coming out of the draft wanted me to be a pitcher. I didn’t want to pitch,” said Gallo before a recent game at Dr Pepper Ballpark, home of the team’s Class AA affiliate, the Frisco RoughRiders. “I wanted to be a third baseman and play every day.
“The Rangers were just different than anybody else. They had that trust and saw something different in me that no other team saw. I’m so thankful they did.”
Apparently, so are the Rangers as they moved the 20-year-old to Frisco in late June. His propensity to hit balls over the fence has been one reason why. He had 18 home runs in 150 at-bats in his rookie year, 40 last year – despite missing 33 games with a groin injury – and 36 with more than a month left this season.
His long, looping swing might remind some of a young Josh Hamilton. But it also causes him to strike out too much, something he has plenty of time to work on.
“I’m definitely ahead of where I thought I would be,” he said. “When I first got here I never thought I’d be in AA this summer. I’m 20 years old and things happen quick and things have worked out for me but never would have predicted moving up so fast.
“They’ve never really let me know what their plans are. They really want you to go out and just play. They’ve never said ‘you’re going to be up in the Major Leagues this year’ or anything like that. They want you to play harder and play better. They just let you play and help the team win and they’ll handle things like that. I didn’t think I’d have so much success this year. I’m hoping to keep it going and do as well as I can.”
Gallo’s initial foray in baseball was at age 3 with brother Anthony’s T-ball team. By the time he was old enough to participate in youth leagues, he was an excellent pitcher and shortstop.
He sprouted from 5 feet 9 inches to 6 feet 3 inches his freshman year of high school and soon thereafter to his current height. Too tall to play shortstop, he concentrated at third base his senior year.
Though good enough for the pros, he also considered playing college ball especially at Southeastern Conference schools. When his name was passed by early in the pro draft, he thought he might be headed for Louisiana State University. But then the Rangers called and with a financial offer he couldn’t refuse, he was quickly off to Arizona.
“When I first got drafted I went to Surprise, Ariz., which is a little retirement area,” he said. “All of my friends were going to college on spring break or summer break and we’re in a hotel and playing. It was kind of a reality check.
“It was kind of weird. It was tough, maybe harder than I thought it was going to be. And you’re with guys speaking different languages. I wasn’t used to that when I first got drafted but now we’re all friends. It was weird.”
Gallo credits his Rangers’ coaches and long-time pro Jason Giambi for making the transition easier. He has spent last two off-seasons learning from Giambi who hired Gallo’s father Tony as a pitching instructor at his baseball batting cage complex in Las Vegas about 10 years ago.
“I give a lot of credit to Jason Giambi,” said Gallo whose workout partners have included Colorado Rockies All-Star Troy Tulowitzki. “I’ve hit with him and kind of picked his brain a little bit. He gave me a lot of advice and helped me out.
“Jason always told me never get frustrated because you don’t get anything out of it. But it’s tough. You get frustrated but the more you get frustrated the harder things are going to get. He always told me take it at-bat by at-bat. Don’t let the last at-bat affect the next at-bat. That’s really helped me play hard and stay focused.”
Gallo’s focus resulted in a league-record 18 homers in Surprise and earned him the league’s 2012 Topps/Minor League Baseball Player of the Year honor. His combined 40 blasts last year in Arizona and low Class A Hickory, N.C., were the most by a teenager since the 42 by Class C’s Dick Simpson in 1962 and netted him the Joe Bauman Award.
This year’s numbers at high Class A Myrtle Beach and Frisco netted him an invitation to the Futures Game in Minneapolis in July where his 425-foot homer broke a truck window (the groin injury kept him from playing in 2013).
Though many of his hits draw similar attention, he knows there’s work to be done to keep him moving up the Rangers ladder.
“I want to draw a few more walks and hit for a better average, kind of get things a little more refined and play better defense,” he said. “I’m really focused on defense. Being 6-5 playing anywhere on the infield is tough.
“Last year I was trying a lot of different things with my stance, trying to figure out an approach. It was tough because it seems I had a different stance every week. It was tough for me and my fault because I was trying to figure something out.”
Fortunately, the Rangers are patient, allowing him the time needed to justify their faith in him.
“Ever since I got drafted I think the Rangers are the only team that believed I could play third base. They were great about it. They trusted me,” he said. They knew I put in the work. Nobody thought I’d stay at third.
“It’s kind of one of my goals to stay there to prove to people that I have the work ethic to stay there. I like when people say you can’t do something because it gives you a little more motivation to actually go out and prove people wrong.”