Draft Day Dilemmas: Will strikeouts doom powerhouse Joey Gallo?
Joey Gallo might lead the league in homers as a rookie, or he might spend all season struggling in Triple-A. Chris Towers wonders if he is worth taking a risk on in Fantasy.
Joey Gallo is a player defined by extremes. Even at this early stage, we can say he is going to be a pretty historic player, if for nothing else than what he did in the minors. Gallo has gone to the plate 1,638 times in the minors, and he has come away with a home run, a strikeout or a walk -- the so-called "Three True Outcomes -- 931 times.
That is a 56.8 percent mark that would have led the majors by a wide margin in 2015 -- Chris Davis is the only player who topped 50 percent -- and only one hitter has qualified for a batting title over the last 10 seasons with a higher mark -- Jack Cust did it twice. For his part, Gallo sported an absurd 63.4 percent mark in his 123 plate appearances with Texas last season, though that was mostly due to the fact that he struck out a whopping 57 times. Is that kind of strikeout rate a death knell, or just a bump in the road?
Since 2006, 4,208 players have seen at least 120 plate appearances in a season, so we've got a pretty robust sample size to work with. Gallo is the only one to top 60 percent in the TTT category, and his 46.4 percent strikeout rate is the highest among that group. No player in the last 10 years has played as much as Gallo did last season while striking out that often. When you take that into account, the fact that Gallo managed a .717 OPS at the age of 21 seems like a minor miracle.
The list of players just behind Gallo in strikeout rate isn't particularly promising, either: Rick Ankiel, Drew Stubbs, Brett Jackson and Javier Baez round out the top (bottom?) five in strikeout rate. Stubbs and Jackson were both top-100 prospects as hitters, though neither had near as much power potential as Gallo does -- few players ever have. Baez is the most similar player, with a massive 37-homer season in 2013 that pushed him into the top-10 of Baseball America's prospect rankings, but he doesn't work so well as a comp, considering he is still just at the beginning of his career -- like Gallo, we still don't know how this is going to work out for him.
The long and short of it is, there's just no way to be productive enough to play everyday while striking out as often as Gallo did in the majors last season. However, there are a number of promising signs as well. Gallo's raw power played up in the majors, as he sported a massive 49.0 percent hard-hit average and 31.6 HR/FB ratio, elite marks for any player of any age. Gallo also hit the 16th-longest homer of the season on June 13, and had an average home run distance of 430 feet; the average for the league was 298.5, and even mighty Giancarlo Stanton managed an average of "just" 417.6 feet.
These don't cancel out concerns about his ability to make enough contact, but they do illustrate just how much potential Gallo has if he can get the strikeouts to a manageable level. When he gets into one, he makes it count.
The truth is, if Gallo succeeds in the majors, he will be an outlier in his own category. In fact, by even getting as far as he has, Gallo is an outlier and a success story -- players who strike out as often as he does simply don't tend to make it to the majors.
Right now, it isn't clear if Gallo even has an everyday role waiting for him in the majors, though his most significant roadblock might be Josh Hamilton, so there might not be a roadblock before long. Given his near-40 percent strikeout rate in Triple-A last season, Gallo might still need some seasoning as well, so we might not see him to start the season anyways.
If Gallo is going to live up to his massive potential, he's got his work cut out for him. Still, he might have once-in-a-generation power, meaning I want to find a place for Gallo on my roster somehow. If the cost is just a late-round pick, how can you afford to let him go by?
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