Joey Gallo on Athleticism and Defensive Versatility

Joey Gallo not only slugs like a slugger, he looks like a slugger. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, he’s a large man by any measure. But don’t let that fool you. He’s no plodder. The 23-year-old Texas Rangers infielder-outfielder is far more athletic than many people realize.

It’s no secret that Gallo can propel baseballs long distances — fully half of his 16 home runs this year have traveled at least 430 feet — and it’s equally well known that he whiffs at an alarming rate. No shortage of words have been written about those facets of his game. Far fewer have been written about his ability to handle the hot corner and, if the need arises, positions higher on the defensive spectrum.

Gallo weighed in on his defensive versatility, including his background as a shortstop and as a flame-throwing pitcher, when the Rangers visited Fenway Park last week.


Gallo on being drafted as a third baseman: “When I signed, I knew I was good enough to play third base. But I didn’t know how good I was. When I started out, I was playing with Latin guys who were much more advanced in the infield and kind of did things a little bit differently. So, when I signed, I was kind of thrown into that process. I was the only American infielder on our team, and I was a little bit behind. I was also a big guy, so I had to work pretty hard to stay at third. But again, I always knew I was good enough play there.

“I don’t think people realized I could play the position, that I could field the position, and do it at a pretty high level. When I was drafted, they said ‘first baseman,’ even though the Texas Rangers drafted me as a third baseman. MLB Network had me as, ‘Joey Gallo, first baseman, drafted…’ My parents were all pissed. It was weird. Everyone did reports on me as a first baseman, not thinking I could play third base.”

On conditioning and weight management: “I’m big. In the offseason, I work pretty hard. I do a lot of agility stuff to make sure I stay agile enough to play the position. But I’ve always had pretty good reactions — I’ve always been able to move pretty well — so in term of… I’ve never really been concerned that I might outgrow the position. At least not at this age. I also lose weight pretty rapidly throughout the season, so I haven’t worried about getting too big. When I started spring training, I was 260, and right now I’m about 245-250. Last year, I ended the season around 230-235.

“Playing in Texas obviously doesn’t help. It’s really hot, so you’re sweating a lot and lose weight that way. And then eating… we have weird schedules, and hard sleep schedules — especially in the minor leagues. It’s tough to eat right after a game, so trying to keep your appetite up, and get food in you, can be a tough process. Some guys gain weight throughout the year, and some guys lose weight, and I’m one of the ones who loses it pretty easily. I think I have a pretty fast metabolism.”

On moving around the diamond: “Last year, I was splitting time between third and first — maybe a little more than half at third — and this year… I was working all offseason at first base. I went to winter ball and played first base. At the time, we didn’t have a first baseman, so I was going to maybe make the team that way.

“Come spring, they said, ‘you’re going to play left,’ so I started paying left. Then [Adrian] Beltre was hurt, so I moved back to third, just in case he wasn’t ready for the season. I didn’t get to play there much, but it’s kind of a natural position for me. I’ve played there since high school, so it wasn’t a huge deal.”

On arm action: “When I was playing outfield in spring training, then would play third base the next day, it was like, ‘Man, it’s a little tough.’ I’d tell the coaches that. It’s so much different of a throw. It’s a little tough to get used to that, but it is what it is. It’s not too, too bad. There hasn’t been any soreness or anything like that.

“In the outfield, you want a throw that carries — it kind of backspins and rises back up. At third base, if you do that, the ball is probably in the stands. At third base, you have to be more precise. You have to be quick, and your arm slot is a little lower. I do like throwing from the outfield. You can throw from over the top, and you pretty much get to throw the ball as hard as you can.”

On playing center field: “In 2015, I played center up here, but that was only one game, and only about six or seven innings — not exactly a huge sample size. It was kind of weird, but at the same time, it wasn’t anything out of the norm. I consider myself a baseball player, and if you’re a true baseball player, you can go out there and play any position. That’s sandlot. You make do with wherever you’re put out on the field. It’s a fly ball.

“I might not be a Gold Glover out there, but a fly ball is a fly ball, and I’m going to try to run it down. If it’s on the ground and someone is running on me, I’m going to try to throw him out. I keep it simple that way. I just go out there and play.”

On not taking his at-bats out to the field: “I learned pretty early on in my career that you can’t do that. Rookie ball, Low-A… we had a really young team when I was in Hickory. We were a bunch of 18- and 19-year-olds, and we’d all be getting frustrated at the plate, and then we’d go out to the field. There be like six guys out there, all mad. We didn’t know how to control the two aspects of the game, the two completely different sides of baseball. We didn’t know how to control failure.

“I’d take my offense with me out to the defensive side. I’d get a ground ball, and I’d boot it. Or I’d get a ground ball and throw it as hard as I can to first, and it would go in the stands. You look like an idiot. The pitchers don’t appreciate that, either. That’s another thing I learned. Now I know to separate the two as best I can. Don’t take any at-bats to the field, and don’t take anything you do in the field up to the plate.”

On DH-ing and versatility: “I haven’t done it much, but I don’t like [being a designated hitter]. It’s maybe nice once in a while — have a random DH day to rest your legs and just hit — but as a permanent position… it’s not something I’d enjoy. It’s not ideal, especially for a young player.

“I love being able to play wherever on the field. It gives [the manager] more options and me more opportunities. I’ve never wanted to be just this big power hitter, where that’s all I’ve got. I want to be able to impact the game everywhere. I think that’s something people who watch me every day are starting to see — I can play the field.

“A lot of people haven’t always understood that. They’ve compared me to guys who are just DH, first base-type guys. I feel I can bring more to the table than going up there and swinging as hard as I can, and trying to hit home runs. I can run the bases. I can play defense.”

On his ability to play shortstop: “It would be really fun to get that opportunity. I mean, I used to play short growing up. I played short all the way up to my senior year, and then I switched to third, because I was going to get drafted as a third baseman. I was about 6-3, or 6-4 at the time. Now I’m 6-5, almost 6-6.

“So I’ve played there before, and in the shift I’m pretty much playing short for half the guys in the lineup — for the lefties. It would still be different, but I wouldn’t mind it. It would be a fun challenge.

“Two years ago, we didn’t have a utility guy for the playoffs, and I was taking ground balls at short. They were kind of looking at me like maybe I could be there if something happened to Elvis [Andrus], so they’ve obviously thought about it. Of course, we have [Pete] Kozma now. He’s a shortstop, so it would be a weird situation, a do-or-die, for me to play there.”

On his pitching background: “There was no chance of me going into pro ball as a pitcher. I had a lot of opportunities to do that. Pretty much every team came into my house and wanted me to be a pitcher, including teams with a really high pick. We would always say no. I wanted to hit. If all else failed — if I couldn’t figure it out at the plate — then maybe I would go to pitching.

“I could always throw hard. My senior year [of high school], I was 94-98 as a starter, and when I came in from third base to close, I was upper 90s. I touched 100 once, which was a pretty cool moment.

“I always ask, ‘When are you going to let me get an inning in?’ but I don’t think it will happen any time soon. If they do let me do it, they might not let me hit anymore. In a way, I’m kind of scared to go on the mound, because I might be too good.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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No lack of confidence! Gotta love that in a young player, particularly one who had a tough time in the early going in the majors.