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2016 MLB Draft Profile: Zac Gallen, RHP

Zac Gallen has been a starter at North Carolina for all three years he has been a Tar Heel, but he had flown under-the-radar until this year. A strong start has the New Jersey native rising up the draft boards. Jeff Ellis profiles Gallen.

Name: Zac Gallen

Position: RHP

HT/WT: 6'2''/191

B/T: R/R

This year, we have seen more players’ stock fall than rise. One of the notable exceptions to this has been North Carolina right-hander Zac Gallen. Gallen was a solid pitcher a year ago for the Tar Heels, but this year he has taken a step forward. More on that in a bit.

Gallen went undrafted out of high school in New Jersey. He was a known player back then, making several lists, but not viewed as a high round pick or a big talent. For instance, he was the 303rd rated player in the draft by Perfect Game. So, when you combine the rating with the fact he had a commitment to UNC, it makes sense why he was not drafted.

Gallen arrived at UNC and immediately became a starter. Most freshman go to a major program and end up in the bullpen for a year or two. The fact he was able to step right in was impressive, even if his performance was middling. As a sophomore, his numbers improved across the board, but not to the point where I heard any talk about him being a high pick in the 2016 draft.

Over the summer, I did not hear a lot of talk about Gallen, either, even though he pitched well in the Cape. It was not until his first start against UCLA that I started to hear a lot of Gallen talk. Since that first excellent start, Gallen has continued to excel.

Gallen is not a big velocity right-hander. In many respects, he might remind you more of the stereotypical lefty. He typically throws 88-92 with his fastball, which sets up his off-speed stuff to put hitters away. His only plus skill looks to be his control, which has seemed to improve steadily during his three years at UNC. I have heard positive reports about both his change-up and cutter this year; both have a chance to be above-average pitches. Gallen has a usable curveball, as well. He has a legitimate four-pitch mix, all of which should be at least average.

I find it interesting that many places say he should have plus command. I would say his control is a plus skill, not the command. The reasoning is that every report has mentioned multiple issues with the ball getting a bit up in the zone and hitters not taking advantage. While he does a great job of not walking hitters, Gallen’s command of his pitches could still use some work. For Gallen to survive as a starter, he is going to need to keep the ball low. I think his command could become a plus skill, because of his clean, easy delivery, but command and control are two different things and should not be used interchangeably.

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The concerns with Gallen are that he is not the biggest of guys and, while not a small pitcher, being below 6’3” would make him outside the ideal window for pitcher height. It has been great that his numbers have improved, but his 4.75 hits per nine is unsustainable. There is, of course, a huge difference between college and the pros. I think relating the numbers to the pros can help with understanding. The lowest all-time hits per nine innings in MLB history was Nolan Ryan at 5.26. So as good as Gallen has been this year, there is going to be some regression to the mean when hitters start making more consistent contact. The game reports I have make it sound like there have been chances for the hitters to jump on Gallen, but, for whatever reason, they have not been able to do it. 

Now, let’s talk about the positives. Gallen is a good athlete and it shows in his delivery. He is not a guy a team will need to tinker with. He should move quickly through a system as a polished arm. I mentioned it before, but he has shown plus control. His command, I think, can also be plus, though he needs to continue to progress. I see a possible backend starter who could move quickly through the minors. He could be a little more if his velocity picks up. There have been reports of him hitting the mid 90’s in game, which would change his outcomes.  

As always, I used Baseball-Reference player index to find a comp. I started by looking for players under the age of 30; looking for a player’s prime year here. I also made the height 6’2” to 5’11’’. I would normally go a few inches taller, as well, but 6’3” is viewed as a cut-off height, so I didn’t go higher. I also included a player weight of 200 pounds or less. In terms of stats, I looked for guys with a strikeout per nine of seven or less, with a walk rate per nine of three or less over the last decade. I then went through the players left and there were two names who appeared multiple times--Joel Pinero and Rodrigo Lopez. So then I headed over to Fangraphs and looked at the pitch mix of those two players. Lopez used a cutter in his career regularly, Pinero did not. When you add this to the fact that Lopez is closer in size, then it made my choice clear. Lopez managed to make more than 200 starts in his career. If Gallen can match that, then he would be an excellent pick.

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Gallen has been one of the best pitchers in the country this year. I think the depth of the right-handed pitching in this draft class will cause Gallen to end up going in rounds 2-4 this year. He has a chance to be a solid backend arm sooner, rather than later.


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