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Selected 2016 stats
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (34): The community was pretty consistent in the ranking of the Cardinals’ 2016 third round draft pick, Zac Gallen. He received the early nod in the mid-20’s from Wileycard, ramping up support in the early 30’s before landing at #34.
CariocaCardinal believes Gallen is a better prospect than second-round draftee Connor Jones. He also likes that Gallen is a year younger and BobReed agreed. 14NyquisT believes that Gallen could start his pro career in earnest at State College in 2017. I noted that Gallen was the top pitcher in the ACC and is a year younger than fellow college draftees. – Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (37): The Cardinals used their first pick on Day 2 of the amateur draft on former North Carolina horse and Friday night starter Gallen, who signed for his assigned slot value of $563,100 in the third round and began his pro career with the Gulf Coast League Cardinals.
Gallen, 21, held a 5-6 record with a 2.68 ERA through 14 starts for the Tar Heels in 2016, earning third-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honors, a year after second-team honors during his sophomore year. The hurler tied for fourth in the ACC with 95 strikeouts in his junior season after blossoming as the in his second year with the program.
Signing scout Charles Peterson chimes in with his impression that helped lead to Gallen’s selection.
“The most important thing that I saw was the way he competed,” Peterson said. “To me, he was one of the best competitors in the ACC last year. Just the way he went about his business. North Carolina didn’t have the best team, but it seemed they played up every time he pitched. His command is second to none.
“I got lucky because when I saw him he was really, really good.”
Peterson lauded Gallen's stuff and pitchability as well.
“I got lucky because there was days I went there and he was up to 94-95 mph and he was throwing his cutter at like 88-89,” he said. “Then he had plus command and there were days he was impossible to hit.”
To open his pro career, Gallen, who was on a strict pitch limitation for the GCL Cards, appeared in six games (three starts) and compiled a 1.86 ERA in 9 2/3 innings pitched. Against lesser competition, the right-hander struck out 15 and didn't walk a single batter, holding the opposition to a .194 batting clip in his draft year.
“I’m not sure he’ll be a high-strikeout guy,” Peterson said. “I think he’ll be more of an innings guy. He’s not the biggest guy, but you hope that he’s going to be able to maintain those strikeouts. Hopefully, he can stay in that seven-to-nine strikeout per nine inning range. I think that would be a pretty good pitcher.
“Who knows? When you can command your fastball, have the pitchability, and competitiveness he has, anything can happen. If he’s not going to pitch at a high-velocity, he’ll have to place the ball. I think he’ll do that.”
The Gibbsboro, N.J., native features a four-pitch mix, including a fastball at 88-92 mph, a low-80s changeup with tumbling action, 74-77 mph curveball, and mid-80s cutter to combat lefties and a go-to offering behind in the count that helped his stuff take a step forward.
His fastball can be thrown from a downhill plane with sink and running action, making for a devastating groundball pitch, especially to righty bats. One scout said his change could be a plus pitch if he throws it more.
While he is not flashy by any means, Gallen is the prototypical polished college pitcher with an advanced feel on the mound and a potential fast mover. His stuff grades out as average across the board, but plays up thanks to his above-average command of all four of the pitches. It will be interesting to see how his curveball and changeup usage changes in pro ball with his fastball command and cutter being his strongest assets presently.
“Obviously, he’s going to have to trust his changeup more than he did in college,” Peterson said. “As a starter, he won’t get by with just two pitches. I didn’t see a lot of his curveball, maybe four or five of them all spring. He’s a good enough athlete and has the pitchability to where I have no doubts he could have an average curveball.
“As far as his changeup, his command is so good even if he had a below-average changeup it’ll play up because of his other pitches.”
Standing at 6-foot-2, 190-pounds, Gallen is athletic with a repeatable delivery and is said to have "ace-like makeup and competitiveness." He is as safe a pick as the Cardinals made in this past summer's draft and is an ideal fit as a backend rotation starter at the highest level.
“I do (see him profiling as a starter long-term),” his signing scout said. “I think that’s his best chance without a big-time fastball it would be hard to find him a position in the ‘pen. So if he’s not starting, it would be hard to see where he could stay long-term. Then again, if you could run him out there in short spurts, his fastball may tick up. You just never know, but I see him as a starter.”
Hopefully, Gallen will up to the task for a full-season assignment to open his 2017 season.
“100% (he’ll be ready),” Peterson added. “I have no idea where he’s going, but I felt like he could’ve pitched there last year. His command is that good.”
Brian Walton (29): At this point, we have precious little to go on with Gallen professionally. The Scott Boras client was initially placed low, in the GCL, and in scripted action, dominated as expected. (Note his FIP of 0.22 above.) He received permission to leave the club three weeks early to make the fall semester of his senior year back in college to complete his degree in management and society. Motivation and results. Check and check.
Even though I ranked Gallen most aggressively at #29, I have a feeling he will place even better in 12 months from now, perhaps after earning an in-season promotion in 2017.
Right here and now, the relative positions of our last player profiled, Ian Oxnevad at #32, compared with Gallen, illustrate the differences in rankings among our voters. The community has the two within two spots of one another, a virtual dead heat. Derek likes Oxnevad quite a bit better and I am just the opposite.
My perspective is based on the fact that Gallen, being a college pitcher, is closer to his ultimate ceiling, and therefore, carries lower risk. Despite their very different experience levels to date, Gallen is just 14 months older than Oxnevad.
As the scouting grades show below, I have both hurlers with a 4.5 grade, between a solid bullpen contributor and a back of rotation starter. But the high school pitcher still in rookie ball, Oxnevad, carries an extreme risk, while Gallen’s risk is simply high in my assessment at this point in time. Even if they are placed together to open 2017, I think Gallen will move faster.
The most compelling indicator coming next should be the season-opening rotation assignments for Class-A Peoria. As we saw in April, 2016, the Cardinals were not shy in promoting top prospects into the starting six, even from the Gulf Coast League and Johnson City, ahead of starters from State College.
The sheer number of candidates suggest some deserving pitchers are going to get squeezed out of full-season ball initially, but I don’t see Gallen or his fellow 2016 early-round draftee Connor Jones being among them. The two need to slot into a rotation somewhere and the Midwest League seems the floor. Unless they are injured, they aren’t the kind of prospects to be placed in extended spring training to gain more experience.
However, at this point, no one is right and no one is wrong. Only time will tell.
TCN Scouting Grade: 4.5, Risk: High (click here to review scales)
Our 2017 top 50 series continues
To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. Thank you for being a member!
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