He played four years at the University of Portland before being drafted in the twenty-fourth round of the 2010 draft by San Diego. Always considered one of the better defensive catchers in the system Gale, 27, did not begin to see steady playing time until 2013 when he got in 62 games with the Double-A San Antonio Missions hitting .246/.285/.285.
Last year he began to dramatically improve as a hitter with a .303/.328/.355 slash line and this season his improvement has carried through with at .326/.366/.417. At six-foot-one and 175 pounds Gale does not look like a tradition catcher but is also one of the better athletes one will find at that position with his ability to move around behind the plate.
We caught up with Rocky, which is his given name and not a nickname, before a recent game to talk about his improvements since becoming a pro.
You have been hitting really well these past two years. What is it that clicked for you and gave you better results?
Rocky Gale My progress in the minor leagues has always been somewhat jumbled. I felt that I always hit at the appropriate level where I should have been.
Last year being around a bunch of professional hitters like Travis Buck, who was my roommate, and Jason Lane really helped me to understand what type of hitter I am. I was hitting in the bottom of the lineup and just watching the way they went about their daily routines and how it helped them to improve, really helped me out.
Also it was about the most at-bats that I ever got in a season too.
It always strikes me as most of the improvement after Double-A takes place more on the mental side than physical. Was that the case with you?
Rocky Gale A lot of it is learning about yourself and learning what you can do in the strike zone. Having good misses, instead of a ground ball to the shortstop.
Travis is an excellent example of just having good confidence internally and what he really helped me was to develop it within myself; which helped me out.
I always thought one of the more impressive things about you is that you have improved each year despite not being “the man” at catcher. How have you been able to do it?
Rocky Gale One of the nice things about professional baseball is if you are a good self-evaluator then there is no mystery about why you are not in the big leagues.
So when you are not playing as much, you get more time to work on things. So when you do get to play, you evaluate how you played and look to get better. What do I need to do to get to the next level?
That is what our hitting coaches are here for. It’s not so much about what you are weak at but also about improving strengths. Some of the hardest work is on the off-days.
When you are in the lineup you go out and play a nine inning game. When you are not, there are a bunch of checkpoints that you are trying to achieve to get better. There are always opportunities to improve.
Before you were hitting as much as you are now, everyone always raved about your defense. What do you do to improve defensively?
Rocky Gale It starts with having a good relationship with the pitching staff. You have to know what they are working on because they are here to get better like everyone else. They are usually working on new pitch or some other aspect, so you have to know that to help them get better.
It is very rewarding to see pitchers that you have worked with go on to have success, wether it is in our organization or somewhere else. It has nothing to do with me but its nice to have been a part of it.
As far as individual skills, there is a lot of maintenance that goes on. It is easier when you are playing every day because you get a lot of work in during the game. If I am not playing everyday I might do some extra work on blocking or picking up bunts. I’ll also do some work with my throwing.
One of the more unusual aspects of you as a catcher is that you are much more lean than the prototypical catcher. How does that affect your game?
Rocky Gale It makes some of the things I do behind there not as traditional, especially in my set-up. Some of my blocking, but the throwing is pretty traditional. I’m a little wiry so that also helps my movement.
You played infield for the first time in your professional career or in college. How did that go? Did you even have a glove?
Rocky Gale I used [Jedd] Gyorko’s the first night, then [Ramiro] Pena’s the next and [Mike] McCoy’s that last. The nice thing about being a catcher is no one can hit the ball hard at you - and you have all that gear on you anyway.
That night McCoy was playing short when I was at second, so I looked to him on where I should position myself. I thought if someone hits it to me just throw it to first.
There may have been some relay positions that could have gotten me in trouble but then again I’m always behind the plate watching so I have some idea of where I should be.
It could even help you get to the big leagues if you can play multiple positions.
Rocky Gale Exactly. It’s all good.
What have you been trying to improve upon the most this season?
Rocky Gale The goal is always to be a successful everyday big league player. You evaluate yourself and try to make strides and give yourself an opportunity.
I played Winter Ball [ Rocky played in the Adelaide Bite where he hit .267/.333/.333 in 23 games and 82 plate appearances] and had some offensive goals and came out of there learning some things about myself and my offensive game. I think you are constantly learning how to be consistent.
You are always tweaking and looking to make those small improvements.