When the season started, if you’d told me that in the last few days of June, Dez Bryant would rifle a one-hop shot off my glove at third base and the Texas Rangers would be optioning Joey Gallo to AAA Round Rock to make way for the re-activation of Josh Hamilton, I’m not sure which of three or four parts of that I’d have believed least.
Gallo, whose penultimate big league act was his first big league triple, nestled Monday night neatly between strikeout swinging, strikeout looking, and strikeout looking on one end and strikeout swinging on the other — sort of a cool bookend to his Rangers debut 27 nights earlier, when he singled, doubled, and homered (and fanned) — was not supposed to get to Arlington in 2015, at least not before September. He did so only because Adrian Beltre injured himself to the point at which the club took him away from Jeff Banister for at least two weeks, which ended up being slightly more than three.
Reaching down to Frisco to get the 21-year-old Gallo wasn’t the same as Texas bringing 20-year-old Rougned Odor up from the RoughRiders a year and three weeks earlier. Gallo was an injury reinforcement, with no expectations that his stay would outlast Beltre’s deactivation (though it did). Odor, on the other hand, was replacing the 4A tandem of Josh Wilson and Donnie Murphy at second base.
The dual objectives — helping the big league club and advancing a player’s own development — don’t always line up, but they did last year for Odor, whom the baseball operations group believed was the organization’s best option at second base as of May 8, when the club was sitting at .500, and whom the club stuck with even when, 11 games into his debut, he was hitting .194/.219/.290 in 33 trips, without a single walk. The Rangers felt the inevitable struggles wouldn’t adversely affect the kid, who’d been hitting .279/.314/.450 in Frisco (after .306/.354/.530 with the Riders the summer before in a similar number of plate appearances) and whose mental game was considered as much a strength as his ability with the bat and glove.
Texas also felt good about Gallo (.314/.425/.636 at Frisco, up from his .232/.334/.524 debut with that club last summer), not just from a possible production standpoint but also in terms of how he’d take an inevitable dose of failure and benefit from it. The pile of strikeouts was assured, and nobody is Beltre’s equal at third base, but the club felt it could address those dual objectives by giving Gallo a brief taste of the big leagues in June.
As it turns out, Gallo struck out at a crazy rate (43 times in 98 trips) but did plenty of damage as well, providing five home runs — though none in the 42 plate appearances that followed his bomb off Clayton Kershaw, a span that included an obscene 24 strikeouts — and an extended glimpse at the unmistakable added presence that he will eventually give this lineup. His work at third base was more than acceptable, and he was less raw than you might have expected when assigned left field.
It was a productive stay for Gallo, who probably helped Texas win more games than he cost them.
Interestingly, when Gallo arrived, Odor had played his way back to the minor leagues. It wasn’t until June 15, when Delino DeShields landed on the disabled list, that Texas made Odor and Gallo teammates for the first time since Odor joined the organization in 2011 and Gallo in 2012. Odor had followed a .144/.252/.233 run (seven walks and 25 strikeouts in 103 plate appearances) to start the big league season by hitting .352/.426/.639 (12 walks and 10 strikeouts in 124 plate appearances) in his first-ever assignment to AAA, and by all accounts locking in defensively, which was just as important.
Odor had earned his way back to the big leagues, and since his return two weeks ago he’s hit .391/.453/.587, with five walks and just four strikeouts in 53 trips, and playing a much more consistent second base than he’d shown early in the season. The difference between April/May Odor and what we’re seeing now is staggering.
The demotion of Odor worked out very well, particularly in terms of that player development objective. And the Rangers more than survived his absence, going 21-13 while he was at Round Rock.
There’s probably a segment of fans disappointed that Gallo was shipped out yesterday, but this is absolutely the right move. He can take with him plenty of confidence that he can compete and contribute at the big league level, and a clear punch list of the things he needs to work on. His .218/.306/.448 slash line over his first 98 big league trips can’t be too far off from the most optimistic projections, but working on his two-strike approach — in 55 plate appearances in which the count went to two strikes, he managed one hit (a double) while fanning 43 times — will be high on the to-do list.
With Beltre back and now Hamilton joining him — and DeShields likely days away from his own return — the choices would have been to have Gallo as a pinch-hitting weapon and spot starter, or get him back to the farm where he can see pitches and get defensive reps every single day and work on the things he now knows he needs to work on.
Like Odor two months ago, Gallo is now a AAA player for the first time, a little bit out of order. He had to expect this — certainly far more than Odor could have anticipated his own return to the farm — and all expectations are that he’ll go to Round Rock with exactly the right mindset, like Odor did in May: To work his tail off to adjust his approach, continue to develop, and force his way back.
Leonys Martin could be next, but that’s a topic for another day. There’s still a moment or two many nights when he takes a run off the board just as Gallo might have put one on, but Texas needs to find a way to get Martin going offensively. We’re talking now about more than 1,400 big league plate appearances, and the 27-year-old is regressing.
Another time on that.
And on the Angels’ latest gift to fill all your sports-schadenfreude needs, days before they come to Arlington to face the Rangers and the number five hitter that they paid to go away . . . leaving them in need of a left fielder that can produce.
Los Angeles won’t face Gallo this weekend, but will for years. After the Angels signed C.J. Wilson, providing Texas with the compensatory draft pick that it used to take Gallo and sign him, the slugger has done nothing but meet every expectation that he didn’t knock out of the park. And that includes the June he spent in Arlington. The acceleration of experience can be invaluable.
One veteran Rangers player said of Gallo yesterday: “I believe he’s going to be a superstar in the big leagues. I don’t think he’ll stay in the minors very long.”
That was Adrian Beltre, who doesn’t hand compliments out like that — especially publicly — all that freely.
About the player who will likely replace him at third base.
Joey Gallo made a big impression in his four weeks in the Major Leagues. At times a majestically big impression. He now goes back to the minor leagues, as expected, and while procedurally this counts as a demotion, it’s less so than the one Rougned Odor prompted and took on. Gallo is moving down as far as the affiliate stack goes, but he moved forward over this last month, and July brings a new opportunity and challenge for him to advance even further as a ballplayer, having been introduced in high definition not only to the adjustments he needs to make, but also to the things he can absolutely do to help a big league team win games. Projection gives way to reality.
Prospect handbook write-ups are one thing. Big league box scores, highlight reels, and intentional walks, and comments from a veteran headed for the Hall of Fame, are another.