Lone Star Dugout Q&A: Joey Gallo

SURPRISE, Ariz. – Coming off an impressive debut summer that included 22 home runs in 59 games at the short-season levels, third baseman Joey Gallo is continuing to impress with his plus-plus raw power in spring training. Lone Star Dugout caught up with Gallo for an interview in this story, which also includes some batting practice video from Tuesday.

Between his 6-foot-5, 205-pound frame and 80-grade raw power, Joey Gallo is difficult to miss on a baseball field. The 39th overall pick in last year's draft, Gallo began his professional career last summer by clubbing 22 home runs in 59 games between the two short-season levels. Along the way, the left-handed slugger set the rookie Arizona League home run record with 18 round-trippers in 43 contests.

The 19-year-old Gallo (he'll play the entire season at 19) has continued to impress with his power this spring––both in back-field minor league games and in a couple ‘A' major league stints.

The Las Vegas native returned to his hometown over the weekend, as the Rangers' big league club traveled a few hours north to face the Cubs for a pair of exhibition games. Gallo appeared in both games. In the first, he launched a double off the 433-foot-deep wall in dead center field. The next day, he drew two walks against Cubs starter Carlos Villanueva before taking reliever Esmailin Caridad deep for a long home run.

With his brief major league stint completed, Gallo has returned to the back fields, where he has continued to hit home runs. Going up against Royals first-round pick Kyle Zimmer last week, Gallo socked a 96 mph fastball over the right-field wall. He added another home run against Kansas City's High-A club on Monday.

Gallo will likely open his first full season as the third baseman at Single-A Hickory. Lone Star Dugout caught up with the prospect after Monday's minor league action. There's also video from his batting practice rounds on Tuesday located below.

Joey Gallo Spring Training Batting Practice: 3/19/2013 (best viewed in full screen and HD).

Jason Cole: Tell me about the experience of going to Vegas, your hometown, to play in big league games for two days.

Joey Gallo: It was a great experience––just being able to play in front of my family, friends, and all of Las Vegas. Representing as a hometown boy was a lot of fun.

Cole: How many tickets did you have pulled for the games?

Gallo: I only had five or six. I didn't want to use too many of them. Obviously on the first big league trip I wasn't trying to use up 20 rows. But I had serious family and friends come to two different games whenever they could make it.

Cole: This time last year, you were still in high school in Las Vegas. Now you're getting to play in a couple major league spring training games. What was it like not only being around some of those big league guys, but also getting to go on a road trip with them?

Gallo: It was a lot of fun. It kind of gives you a taste of how big league life is, and it's pretty nice. I'm hoping that I can work hard enough here and get there. But it was a great experience, being around those guys, seeing how they work, and how they prepare for games.

Cole: You had a double in your first game. In the second, you started out with two walks before hitting the home run. I want to talk about the walks. When you get into a big league setting like that, knowing you've only got a few at-bats to show something, is it difficult to not get overaggressive and try to do too much?

Gallo: Yeah, at the beginning it is. After I settle in and get a couple at-bats, it's just like anything else and I started to relax. That's the thing with the last game. I kind of prided myself more on the walks than even the home run. Because the home run was kind of a mistake pitch. He shouldn't have thrown a 2-2 fastball there. And the walks I got––I had a 3-1 changeup and a 3-2 changeup that I was able to lay off against a guy who's pitched in the major leagues.

Cole: Before you went to Vegas, you hit a home run on the back fields off Royals prospect Kyle Zimmer, another first-round pick from last year. If you remember the at-bat, can you take me through it?

Gallo: I think the first pitch was a fastball, and I fouled that right off. I was right on it. And I knew––I figured he would just come back with offspeed. I'm pretty sure he threw a changeup to me low and outside, and I took it. And then I want to say he threw another ball––another changeup––and then he shook off. I figured, ‘Hey, he's probably going to try and sneak a fastball by me right here.' And I was right on it. I kind of just guessed right there.

Cole: The next time up against Zimmer, you saw a lot of offspeed and stuff out of the zone before you took a walk. Did you notice much of that last year, where guys challenge you the first time before going to offspeed with not as many strikes?

Gallo: Yeah, yeah. I tend to see that happen a lot. Obviously they see a big dude and they challenge him––they want to go after them and see what they have. Obviously if you hit a home run off them with a big, strong swing, they're going to kind of shy away and try to make you get yourself out. And that's the thing I'm trying to get better on––having the patience to take changeups and not swing at 3-2 changeups in the dirt just because I'm trying to be aggressive.

Cole: You obviously set the home run record in the Arizona League last summer. But in your last few weeks out here, the reputation clearly got around and you saw very few strikes. How was it to adjust to that?

Gallo: It's always tough, having to not get strikes. You see guys that come out and they're getting more fastballs than you. But it's something I've always had my whole life. Back in high school, I wasn't getting a lot of fastballs either. So I've always been prepared to hit offspeed––to adjust offspeed and kind of live off both. Fastball and offspeed––you have to be able to hit both out of the park.

Cole: Facing better offspeed stuff in pro ball, did that make the adjustment a little more difficult than in high school?

Gallo: Yeah, definitely––especially when they're hiding it. They're not slowing down throwing it. Everything looks exactly the same, but the ball just drops and it's 10 miles per hour slower.

Cole: Take me back to last year in the Arizona League and Spokane. What did you come away with from your debut summer? How did you feel about it?

Gallo: I felt pretty good. I could've done better. I think the lack of experience playing every day kind of got to me at the end. It started to get in my head a little bit when I got to Spokane. I was thinking that I have to hit a home run in every at-bat instead of just going up there and hitting the ball hard.

That's my approach this year––to not let those streaks go a week long. Maybe two days––two games––and then I'm back to feeling good again. It's more mentally––what I took away from that first season. It's being prepared to play every day, having my head in the game every day, instead of more of a physical kind of thing. I was always pretty much prepared physically. It's just more of a mental thing.

Cole: You came out here and were hitting well from the start. You've continued the hot start with the minor league and major league games so far. What did you do in the offseason to come in ready to hit from the outset?

Gallo: I had a training program to stay in shape. I was eating right. Then I kind of took a month or two off and just let my body rest. Obviously swinging every day will get to you, and your back will start to hurt and everything. I kind of just took it easy and was just trying to focus on getting stronger and stuff.

Then when I got into the spring, it was a real emphasis on staying back on the ball––just using my hands and getting better at not jumping and stuff. It has really helped. I've felt really good hitting right now and since the beginning of the spring.

Cole: Since you signed last summer, have you changed anything in the mechanics of your swing or what you do up there physically?

Gallo: Yeah. I would say I did. It's nothing huge. If you came and saw me last year and this year, you'd probably not even notice much. But to me, it's big. It's more of staying back a lot more instead of jumping at the ball––especially with my takes. With my hands––I'm trying to use more hands. I'm trying to use my hands to get my leverage going and get some swing into it. That's about it. It's a big adjustment to me, and I've felt great doing it. But that's just a minor adjustment.

Cole: As you look forward to a full season this year, likely at Hickory, is there anything you would like to accomplish?

Gallo: Our goal as a team, and my goal, is that we want to win. We want to do the same thing we did in the AZL. That's what's going to come first for me. Obviously I want to play well and help my team win. But any way I can help my team win––that's what's going to come first here. Especially in Hickory. We want to win again. So I'm going to go out there, and hopefully my numbers are there too. Hopefully I have a good year––hopefully everybody has a good year like in the AZL. But that's what we're going to try and focus on.

Cole: Talk to me about the glove at third base and how it has progressed since you signed. What have you been working on there?

Gallo: Just more of my feet. I'm trying to get better on my throws. That was the key point for me last year. I was throwing a lot of balls away. And that's what I've been working on here. I threw one away the other day, but other than that, I've been pretty good. But it is getting a lot better. I feel really good over there. Most people don't think I'll be able to stick over there, but I don't see a problem there.

Cole: How do you react when you hear from people who think you will end up at first base or right field rather than third base?

Gallo: I think maybe it's more people just assuming––obviously I made a few errors in my first year. But it has been like that my whole life. Most people saying I can't play third base, I can't play whatever, I can't hit pro pitching, I'm too big, my swing is too long. I think it is turning out fine just doing it the way I am. But I am working on it. It's kind of more motivation when people say I can't do it––more than when people say, ‘Oh, he can do it.'

Cole: You talked about working on the throws at third base. Clearly you have lots of arm strength for the position, but what do you need to do technically to get the accuracy down?

Gallo: It's more getting my feet ready in a good position going to first to get the throw on line. The other thing is not trying to throw the ball as hard as I can. When I was in high school, I was always trying to throw the ball as hard as I can and impress people. And now it's not that anymore.

It's not about the arm strength; it's about getting the ball there quick. That's usually when you make throwing errors––when you try to throw the ball as hard as you can, and it sails over their head. I'm kind of just relaxing when I throw and making a nice soft throw to the chest with quick motions.

Cole: Is any part of that kind of learning how much time you have at third base to make a play?

Gallo: Yeah, you kind of have a feel for runners––especially when you see how big they are, or even if you know who they are. You kind of have a feel of how fast they're going to be, and you kind of have a time watch in your head. You can think about if it's a slow ball, you're going to have to be quicker. Or if it's a nice hard shot, you're going to have more time to make the play at first. Ultimately it depends on the runner though.

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