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.
Joey Gallo, 3B, Texas Rangers (Profile)
Level: High-A Age: 20 Top-15: 6th Top-100: N/A
Line: 185 PA, .342/.459/.795, .452 ISO, 17.8% BB, 23.8% K
Joey Gallo used to throw pitches. Now he just abuses them.
The former two-way prep hurler is doing the unthinkable — he’s improving upon stunning 2013 breakout season, which saw him slug 40 home runs in 111 minor league games. This year, through 42 contests, his Isolated Slugging rate (ISO) is up to .452 in High-A after siting at .365 at Low-A in ’13. His BB/K rate is also much improved from 0.29 to 0.75. His walk rate has risen from 10.8 to 17.8% while his strikeout rate has dipped from 37.0 to 23.8%.
One of the big reasons that the walk rate is up is due to the fact that pitchers are afraid to challenge the big slugger. And credit Gallo; he hasn’t expanded his strike zone. His ability to trim his K-rate — even if it remains high at almost 24% — speaks volumes about his maturity as a baseball player and to his understanding of hitting. Most 20 year old hitters would not display the type of restraint that Gallo has shown — possibly harkening back to lessons learned during his days standing on the bump staring into the batter’s box.
Perhaps the best comp for the prospect is also one of the most prolific all-or-nothing sluggers in recent memory in Russell Branyan, also a left-handed batter. At the same age as Gallo, the former seventh round draft pick of the Indians produced a .307 ISO rate in 130 Low-A ball games (one level lower than the Rangers farmhand). He had an 11.2% walk rate and a 30.1% strikeout rate.
As pointed out during last Friday’s Myrtle Beach Pelicans broadcast — during the game in which Gallo slugged three home runs — Gallo is currently on pace to hit more than 50 home runs this season. The last player to hit that many in the minors was former Chicago White Sox slugger Ron Kittle, who slugged exactly 50 in 127 Triple-A games in 1982 at the age of 24. He produced his .407 ISO rate for Edmonton of the Pacific Coast League, and his walk rate was 13.2% while his strikeout rate was just 19.5%.
Neither Branyan nor Kittle went on to have overly successful big league careers. The Indians slugger managed 194 home runs but topped out with 10.8 WAR. The former Rookie of the Year winner for the White Sox produced 176 home runs in his career with just 5.2 WAR. I remain optimistic with Gallo because of the adjustments I noted above, as well as his ability to hit the ball out of any part of a ball park — with ease. He doesn’t have to sell out for power; he has easy 80-grade power. For example, consider Gallo’s recent three-homer performance:
HR #1: 2-0 count, FB away, crushed to left center field (got too much of the plate)
HR #2: 2-0 count, FB away, crushed to left centre field (off the end of the bat)
HR #3: 1-2 count, FB low and inside, crushed to deep right field
The final dinger caused the Myrtle Beach Pelicans announcer quipped, “That ball might have hit his car out there.”
Prior to the 2012 draft, I wrote a piece detailing what I would have done as the scouting director for each team in the first round. I had Joey Gallo listed as the 12th-best prospect on my draft board (He actually lasted until the 39th pick). But, interestingly enough, I picked him as a pitcher:
Joey Gallo, 3B/RHP, Las Vegas HS – The toughest decision with Gallo is whether to make him hitter or a pitcher. He has some of the best raw power in the draft but also flashes mid-to-upper-90s heat and a potentially-plus slider. Because he has a lot of holes in his swing I would try him on the mound before handing him a bat. Gallo has shown a lot of promise as a pitcher and could really take off if he focuses on it full time.
Picking 12th in the 2012 draft, perhaps the Mets should have listened to me — rather than taking the light-hitting Gavin Cecchini. Well, on second thought… it’s probably best that they didn’t. Otherwise, he might be serving up dingers rather than slugging them.
Andy Ferguson, RHP, Kansas City Royals (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 25 Top-15: N/A Top-100: N/A
Line: 37.2 IP, 41 H, 20 R, 33/8 K/BB, 4.78 ERA, 2.62 FIP
An 18th round draft pick out of Arkansas State University in 2011, Ferguson could end up having more future big league value than first rounders such as Bubba Starling (Royals), Cory Spangenberg (Padres), Sean Gilmartin (Braves/Twins), Levi Michael (Twins), and Kevin Matthews (Rangers).
Ferguson, 25, is pretty ordinary. He’s a right-hander pitcher. He stands just 6-0 (or 6-1, depending on who you ask). His fastball velocity spends time in the low 90s. And, as a result, he lasted into the mid rounds of the 2011 amateur draft.
Currently pitching in Double-A, Ferguson’s numbers are just so-so, although advanced metics and secondary numbers tell us he’s been better than his ERA would suggest (4.78 ERA vs 2.78 FIP vs 3.55 SIERA). Through his six starts (He also pitched out of the ‘pen for two games), the Arkansas native has averaged 6.0 innings per start and he’s walked just five batters. So, this tells us he’s durable and has solid control — two key ingredients for a big league hurler.
Where Ferguson struggles, according to the numbers, is 1) Against left-handed hitters, and 2) In generating fly-ball outs. Against opposite-handed hitters (throughout his career), the right-hander’s strikeout rate plummets (24.4 to 16.4%), his walk rate jumps (6.0 to 8.6%) and his line-drive rate increases (12.7 to 18.1%). Since reaching Double-A in the second half of 2013, Ferguson’s ground-ball rate has been below 40%, making him predominantly a fly-ball pitcher.
The right-hander’s repertoire consists of a 87-93 mph fastball, breaking ball and splitter. As mentioned above, the heater’s velocity is average-ish. It also doesn’t have a ton of movement to it so it’s important for him to throw strikes with the offering, which he does routinely. Unfortunately, he has a tendency to keep the ball in upper half of the zone — especially when he struggles to keep his shoulder closed — which leads to the high fly-ball rate.
The Royals prospect’s breaking ball is below average thanks to its modest break but he utilizes it well at times as a change of speed. He’d benefit from a bigger break on the pitch because it would help alter the hitters’ eye levels from the fastball. His splitter is quite effective as a chase pitch but it’s important for him to be ahead in the county to fully benefit from it.
I like Ferguson’s well-balanced, easy delivery. It allows him to stay in a good fielding position after he delivers the ball and he fields his position well. He utilizes a low-three-quarter arm slot but he gets under the ball at times and, as a smallish right-hander, needs to focus on generating as much plane as possible on his offerings.
I don’t see the pitcher surviving for long as a starter in the big leagues but, with a little further polish, he could develop into a middle reliever with his fastball/splitter combination; his above-average control — and willingness to pitch inside — helps his stuff play up a bit. The former college pitcher is in his fourth pro season so he’ll be eligible for the Rule 5 draft in December if the Royals fail to add him to the 40-man roster by the November deadline.
Jon Gray, RHP, Colorado Rockies (Profile)
Level: Double-A Age: 22 Top-15: 2nd Top-100: 16th
Line: 42.1 IP, 34 H, 14 R, 38/7 K/BB, 2.98 ERA, 2.81 FIP
A candidate to go first in the 2013 amateur draft mainly due to the strength of his triple-digit heater, Gray eventually went third overall to the Colorado Rockies.
Gray threw 37.1 innings in his pro debut in ’13 and was assigned to Double-A to open the 2014 season. The University of Oklahoma alum has pitched reasonably well with a 2.98 ERA (2.96 FIP, 3.15 SIERA) and 34 hits allowed in 42.1 innings. He’s also walked just seven hitters to go along with 38 strikeouts. He’s performed equally well against left-handed and right-handed batters.
Gray, 22, sounds like a sure-fire star with his 6-4, 235 pound frame, power arsenal and above-average control numbers but I remain hesitant to get too excited. Despite his strong frame, I have injury concerns thanks to the effort needed to throw in the upper 90s coupled with a delivery that causes him to finish more upright than I’d like; it puts a lot of stress on his shoulder.
On the plus side, Gray repeats his delivery well and he has simple mechanics, which helps him throw strikes. Even when he struggles to command his pitches, he’s often around the strike zone. When I saw him pitch, he was fastball-heavy and he struggled with his slider early in the game when he was guiding the ball and slowing down his arm speed. By the third inning, though, he commanded it well and it showed a sharp break. I didn’t see much of the changeup but it’s reportedly a distant third offering.
If my injury concerns are out in left field then the Rockies could have a solid pitcher on their hands, although I also worry about how his heavy-fly-ball tendencies and will match up with his home park in Colorado. From a talent perspective his floor is probably that of a No. 3 starter in the Majors with the ceiling of a No. 1/2 hurler.
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