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Gallo's big blast starts Double-A tenure

At 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, Joey Gallo certainly looks the part of a big league star. Brian Westerholt/Four Seam Images/AP Images

FRISCO, Texas -- Texas Rangers third base prospect Joey Gallo is just 20 and has exactly one Double-A game under his belt, and already the exploits and expectations when it comes to his big bat are spreading like, well, injuries in Arlington.

OK, bad analogy.

But the point is that every coach, scout or player you talk to has a story to tell about the 6-foot-5, 235-pound infielder -- he’s listed at 205, but Gallo admits that was probably from his high school years -- selected in the supplemental first round (39th overall) of the 2012 draft. The same guy who leads all of minor league baseball with 62 home runs the past two seasons.

That’s why, when Gallo pummeled a fastball over a tree deep in foul territory at Dr Pepper Ballpark in his first at-bat Monday, you could imagine it one-hopping and hitting the apartment complex. If anyone is home and on the deck over there during batting practice, they'd better have a glove handy.

And it's why, when Gallo stepped up to the plate with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth of a tie game, the fans still in attendance thought something could happen, despite the fact that he was 0-for-4 with three consecutive strikeouts.

Jayce Tingler, the Rangers' minor league field coordinator, asked him a simple question as he grabbed his bat to head to the on-deck circle: "You going to do this, big boy?"

Gallo answered in the affirmative, then used his big bat for emphasis and crushed a 2-0 changeup high into the Texas sky, just shy of the scoreboard in left-center. It was an opposite-field shot that signaled his arrival in Double-A.

“It’s pretty huge," Gallo said of his first Double-A game. "I kind of knew going up to the plate. I said before I was taking pretty good swings. I ended up having a good opening debut.”

The walk-off start is only the latest ridiculous feat from the 20-year-old, who can't even celebrate it with a beer yet.

Joe Mikulik, who managed Gallo in Class A Myrtle Beach, talks about another opposite-field home run, this one hit over the scoreboard at what scouts call a pitcher’s park at the Pelicans’ home in South Carolina.

“That scoreboard is in left-center and is 400-plus [feet from home plate], and he hit it over that going the opposite way,” Mikulik said. “Other guys are smoking balls with everything they have, and it’s caught at the warning track.”

One scout claimed Gallo threw a 100 mph pitch to get his high school team into the state championship. Is that true?

“I believe that,” Gallo said. “That was one pitch that I remember to close out [the regional championship]. I just reared back. It was a pretty big pitch. So I reared back, and a Blue Jays scout showed my dad, and he was pretty happy about it because my dad is a pitching instructor.”

Then there’s Gallo hitting cleanup on a Nevada travel squad in his youth, protecting Bryce Harper. Yep. Harper and Gallo hit third and fourth, respectively, in a stacked lineup. Harper caught, and Gallo played shortstop. Can you imagine pitching to those guys?

Gallo still talks with Harper at least a few times a month. The Washington Nationals star will send him some bats at times. And he’s not the only famous baseball player to have spent quality time with Gallo. This past offseason, the slugger worked out with Jason Giambi and Troy Tulowitzki in Las Vegas. That is something he’s been doing for a few years now.

It’s clear Tulowitzki is a believer in Gallo’s feats.

“When I first worked out with him, I was just impressed with how big he was and how strong he was at such a young age,” Tulowitzki said. “Then I started doing some research on him and found out he was a big-time prospect, so I asked him if he wanted to hit. We would be hitting in the cage, and you've got this kid who was hitting just as hard as you and just as far, if not farther. It opens up your eyes. I knew he was a big-time guy. I knew he would have a special skill set as he grew up and played some more.”

All that praise and pressure could crush most guys. But, so far at least, Gallo’s superhuman strength extends to his mental game. He shrugs it off with a realistic approach. He said he’s earned this promotion but has a lot to learn. He talks about how vastly he's improved the one area of the game that worried outsiders -- his high strikeout rate -- while noting he was more concerned with becoming a better defensive third baseman.

Oh, and he’s in no rush to speed off to the big leagues.

“I have a lot to work on, and that’s why I’m here still, and we’ll see how I handle Double-A,” he said.

Gallo struck out 165 times in Class A Hickory in 2013 and had 48 walks. It was an all-or-nothing season for him at the plate, and he admitted he was “chasing” home runs later in the year.

“I wanted to lead the minor leagues,” Gallo said. “I was 19. I was kind of young, and it was like, ‘Oh, that’d be cool.’ But now I just want to develop and just turn into a good major leaguer. I don’t care about the stats too much right now. I just want to continue to develop.”

His coaches saw Gallo turn and drive good pitches, despite the strikeouts. He wasn’t getting blown away. But he was swinging too much and not as disciplined as he needed to be.

Now he’s matured. Carolina League pitchers didn’t want to challenge him, so they threw off-speed stuff and hoped he’d chase it. He didn’t, at least not as often as they wanted. Gallo had 64 strikeouts in 58 games -- still a high rate but better than last year. Yet he also had 51 walks.

“His batting practices and routine is so much better this year than last year,” Mikulik said. “He drives balls the other way and doesn’t just turn-and-burn to see how far he can hit it. He has a really good idea of his plan and being able to recognize pitches a little bit better.”

The patient approach had him on base more, and he was still able to crush balls to lead the league in homers and hit .323.

“With that kind of power, it would be so tempting to try to go up there every time and try to hit the ball out of the ballpark and not take a walk,” Mikulik said. “He’s mature to know not to do that.”

Gallo is also polished. He obviously has chatted with the media before and seemed honest and comfortable. There was confidence but nothing more. Even posing for photos wasn’t anything that fazed him. A photographer asked him to sit with a bat, and Gallo immediately put it on his shoulder and smiled.

“You’ve done this before, haven’t you?” the photographer asked, chuckling.

What Gallo hasn’t done is face the kind of competition that he will see in the Texas League. There’s a jump from High A to Double-A, and more good hitters have stalled here than continued the upward swing toward the big leagues.

But the Rangers -- and a few scouts from other organizations I’ve talked to -- are convinced Gallo won’t stall at all.

“My expectations are for him to not change what he’s doing just because he’s at a different level,” Tingler said. “We want to see him continue to work, play the game correctly, hustle and improve on defense. Overall, the hope is for him not to change what he’s doing right now. Let him make his small adjustments within the league without changing his approach.”

He’ll have his ups and downs. Monday was only the first example. His first at-bat was a hard grounder to first that scored a run. His second was a strikeout swinging at a breaking pitch low and out of the zone. As was his third. His fourth was a strikeout looking on a borderline pitch. His big arm helped him in the seventh, when he bobbled a ball but still had time to rifle it to first to get the out. His first home run is already out of the way. His first slump will show up too, at some point.

Gallo has already dealt with that. He had a rough 10-day period this season during which his timing was off and he couldn’t seem to do much of anything. Mikulik was impressed with how Gallo didn’t panic and just worked to get things figured out.

The coach wants to see his star pupil continue to develop at the proper pace. He doesn’t like talking about quick fixes in Arlington when it comes to Gallo.

“The numbers are silly, but we’ve got to be patient,” Mikulik said. “He’s still 20. He’s got a bright future. He’ll get there. He’s going to develop and get there in due time.”

Even with an offense needing a power supply, that time isn’t now. The towering shot Gallo hit in the ninth Monday might make some want to change their minds about that, but there's plenty of time for him to blast those in the big leagues. If Gallo can be patient, fans need to be too.

His walk-off moment doesn't make that any easier.

Patrick Saunders of The Denver Post contributed to this story.