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Prospect Watch: Big Power Numbers
Posted By Nathaniel Stoltz On April 25, 2014 @ 10:00 am In Minor Leagues,Pirates,Prospect Watch,Rangers,White Sox | 19 Comments
Each weekday during the minor-league season, FanGraphs is providing a status update on multiple rookie-eligible players. Note that Age denotes the relevant prospect’s baseball age (i.e. as of July 1st of the current year); Top-15, the prospect’s place on Marc Hulet’s preseason organizational list; and Top-100, that same prospect’s rank on Hulet’s overall top-100 list.
Formerly an all-or-nothing power hitter, the early returns on Gallo’s 2014 show him to be combining his once-in-a-generation power with an increasingly sound approach at the plate.
I have yet to see Gallo this year, but I saw him quite extensively last year, and published a detailed piece on his current state and future outlook last September. In that piece, I outlined four issues that led to his ghastly 37% strikeout rate last year:
1.) His swing was incredibly long, largely due to a huge loading mechanism that forced him to rotate the bat an extra 90 degrees to get to the ball.
2.) He had poor barrel control.
3.) He didn’t adjust with two strikes.
4.) While he wasn’t necessarily overly aggressive, he swung at just about everything in the zone, and due to the above issues, that wasn’t an approach suited to his skillset–he was better-suited waiting for mistakes he could crush.
Gallo possesses such tremendous power that he slugged 40 homers last year despite all of the above problems (and the crazy K-rate they caused) and despite missing a month with an injury, but it seemed quite clear that he would need to make adjustments to at least a couple of the above areas if he wanted to be more than the next Mike Hessman, let alone if he wanted to follow in the footsteps of Chris Davis.
Well, all indications are that he has. First, let’s consider the statline. This was the final sentence of my Gallo writeup last year:
Expect the homers and strikeouts to still come in bunches, but watch that walk number–as he develops, his ability to offset the whiffs with walks may decide how rosy his career trajectory is.
Well, the homers are sure coming in bunches, with Gallo launching nine in 19 games, and while he’s cut his K-rate dramatically, it still is a quite high 26.1%.
But the walk rate? A magnificent 19.3%, up from 10.8% last year, and back in line with the 18.4% mark of his 2012 short-season campaign. That’s huge. If Gallo is a mid-teens walk rate hitter in the end, almost no amount of strikeouts will keep him from being effective, not with his grade of power (and unlike a lot of the Adam Dunn/Jack Cust Three True Outcomes types, Gallo actually has some defensive value, too).
Of course, this is a three-week sample we’re talking about, so it’s silly to just simply scan the statline and scream superlatives. But the numbers are reflective of a much-improved swing. Consider this side-view video of Gallo from last May–it’s a great view of how far Gallo’s bat snaps forward in his load before his swing starts. In this video from instructional league last year, though, the load was significantly reduced. and by this spring, it was almost gone. He doesn’t need the crazy load to generate his huge power, obviously, and eliminating it gives Gallo a much better chance of squaring up pitches in a variety of locations. He’s still a big guy with a big strike zone who doesn’t have great barrel control, so he’s unlikely to ever be much under the 25% strikeout threshold, but with top-of-the-scale power and a tremendous walk rate, that’s trivial. If the adjustments continue to stick, Gallo should rank as one of the best offensive prospects in the game by the end of the year.
Stetson Allie, 1B, Pittsburgh Pirates (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 23 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 69 PA, .298/.420/.702, 6 HR, 10 BB, 14 K
Still viewed as a longshot by many, Allie continues to defy the odds, and his walks-and-power skillset seems to be translating to the upper minors.
Converted from pitcher to first base in 2012 after wildness derailed the former flamethrower’s pitching career, Stetson Allie seemed like an improbable bet to carve out a big league career. All but the best first base prospects are longshots, after all, and Allie began his pro hitting career with a meek .213/.314/.340 line in Rookie ball at age 21, not exactly portending greatness.
Last year brought some significant signs of life, however, as Allie tore apart the Low-A South Atlantic League with a .324/.414/.607 triple-slash, clubbing 17 homers in 66 contests. That still wasn’t enough to silence the doubters, though, because he was a 22-year-old first baseman who struck out nearly 30% of the time. The skeptics only became more certain of their position when he hit just .229/.342/.356 in the second half with High-A Bradenton, hitting just four homers in virtually the same amount of playing time.
The Pirates promoted the now-23-year-old to Double-A Altoona to open the 2014 season despite the late-’13 slump, though, and he’s already more than justified the move by launching six bombs and five doubles in his first sixteen contests, maintaining his robust 14.4% walk rate from High-A, and cutting his strikeout rate to 20.3%.
Allie doesn’t quite have Gallo’s raw power, nor does the thick-bodied slugger boast Gallo’s defensive utility, but he can still drive the ball out of the park to all fields. I happened to see two impressive examples of his raw strength in a game last May. Let’s take a look at his swings here:
Allie does have something of an uppercut stroke with a fairly high back elbow, and he does step slightly toward third base on both of these cuts, so he’s not a model of mechanical perfection, but he also doesn’t employ the sort of crazy-long stroke favored by the 2013 version of Gallo and many other young power hitters. With his knack for pitch recognition thrown in as well, he’s not necessarily doomed to extreme strikeout rates. As with Gallo, if Allie’s hitting homers regularly and posting walk rates well into the double digits, even having K-rates in the 25% range wouldn’t be much of a hindrance.
Allie usually DH’d in my looks last year, so I don’t have much to say about his defense, other than that he certainly didn’t look the part of much more than a stand-around-at-first guy. Most reports I’ve heard of his defense are far from glowing, so he’s going to have to hit. Still, for a player who has only been hitting for two years, this kind of success in Double-A bears watching. I’m not penciling him in future Pittsburgh lineups yet, but I also wouldn’t rule out his becoming a legitimate power source in the big leagues.
Chris Curley, 3B, Chicago White Sox (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 26 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 70 PA, .348/.386/.500, 0 HR, 2 BB, 13 K
The 2013 Carolina League MVP has started strong in his transition to the upper levels and isn’t without talent, but at 26, quick movement is imperative.
Chris Curley has spent his entire career far out of the spotlight. He went to college at Campbellsville University, an NAIA school, and went undrafted before signing with the Braves in late 2009. He went 3-for-19 in Rookie ball that season, hit a measly .214/.259/.320 in Low-A the next year, and was summarily released, drifting to the independent Frontier League. He hit .292/.353/.467 there in 2011 before ripping the ball at a .356/.387/.611 clip in a repeat of the circuit in 2012, enough to get him signed by the White Sox and given another shot at the SAL halfway through the season.
Since his reentry into the affiliated minors, Curley has quietly compiled numbers against younger competition. He hit .271/.321/.500 with 11 homers in 49 games for Kannapolis in 2012 before going 5-for-12 in a late-season cameo with High-A Winston-Salem. Returned to the High-A level in 2013, he paced the Carolina League with 24 big flies, adding 24 doubles, 14 steals, and 51 walks on the way to a .280/.350/.471 line and league MVP honors…as a 25-year-old.
It’s easy to write a guy like Curley off when he’s at the A-ball levels, but he’s continued to mash as a now-26-year-old in Double-A. While he hasn’t cleared the fence yet, he’s he has eight doubles and a triple across his first eighteen contests. Now that he’s putting up numbers in the upper minors and boasts an ever-increasing track record of solid hitting, perhaps it’s time to at least acknowledge his existence.
You can get a sense of Curley’s swing and power by checking this out:
Curley doesn’t sell out for power, and he has quick wrists that allow him to get the bat head to the hitting zone relatively quickly and make a fair amount of hard contact. He does wrap the bat a bit, adding some length, he doesn’t have elite bat speed, and he’s not always consistent with his mechanics, but none of these flaws are dramatic, and his hand-eye coordination has made things work so far (obviously).
Players like this are a bit difficult to deal with due to the aforementioned age/level discrepancy–how much should we penalize Curley for being older than most of his foes? In a sense, it’s not really his fault he’s this far behind the curve–with the exception of his first few dozen games out of college (those in the Braves organization), he’s always hit well, and it’s not like his defense is so awful as to deny him promotions. But he lost two years with the independent league stint, and by the time he got back in affiliated ball, the age/level discrepancy made him less of an organizational priority, thus further slowing his timetable; he was probably ready to take the Double-A test last June, if not earlier.
Curley has experience at second base, shortstop, and third base, but he’s been exclusively a third baseman this season, and that’s probably his home moving forward. His arm is near plus and he’s an above-average athlete for the hot corner, but he doesn’t have great actions or soft hands, making him an inconsistent defender wherever he plays. He’s probably not more than an emergency option at shortstop going forward, and I could go either way on him being a playable second baseman (it would be a waste of the arm, too). He could probably handle the outfield corners with a bit of training, though, painting him as a Ryan Raburn type defensively.
With his combination of average contact and power and defensive versatility, Curley profiles as a good organizational player who could hang around as a reasonable multi-position reserve on a roster that needed his talents. In order to reach that height, though, he’ll need a few things: luck, consistent production, and a return to his 2013 plate discipline. Curley has walked at below a 5% clip at every minor league stop at which he spent significant time, except last year, when he managed a decent 8.4%. He has only walked twice so far this season, and he’ll be exploited by upper-level pitchers if he can’t walk a couple of times per week. As you can see in the video above, Curley likes to get his arms extended, which results in him chasing a lot of soft stuff away. He’ll need to better differentiate pitches he can drive (or at least line) from those he can’t if his upper-minors success is to hold.
I’d like to see the White Sox give Curley a look in Triple-A soon if he can continue to maintain this production, giving a better idea of whether he’s a legitimate candidate to ever sniff a major league field. He doesn’t have a high upside and remains on the periphery of the White Sox prospect picture, but it’s impressive that Curley’s made it this far, and it’s a testament to the Chicago scouting department that they’ve pulled a quality organizational player out of the Frontier League.
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