Joey Gallo was expected to arrive in Venezuela on Friday and jump into the Magallanes lineup shortly thereafter to begin the first winter ball stint of his career.
The Texas Rangers’ top prospect was dispatched to South America to continue his development after missing a month at Triple A because of a groin injury and going 1 for 25 with 19 strikeouts in three stints with the Rangers in 2016.
But there’s a catch that comes with going to winter ball, whether in Venezuela or the Dominican Republic: Players who don’t produce don’t play.
Gallo wasn’t in a good place only three weeks ago, when the regular season ended and he was sent to Arizona to keep working out in case the Rangers needed him for some reason during the postseason. Gallo struck out in his final 13 at-bats, dating to late July.
In addition to the need to produce, the atmosphere is different in winter ball. The fans and the intensity that come with games can be eye-opening.
Being in Venezuela should be even more eye-opening. The economy is in shambles. Some citizens are eating garbage to survive. Toilet paper is a luxury item. Isn’t socialism great?
So maybe, just maybe, the Rangers want Gallo to see how reacts to those things as much as getting his swing straightened out.
Gallo, after all, is still 22. He turns 23 next month. Had he played college baseball, it’s unlikely he would have seen the major leagues yet. He’s young.
While he still has development to do, perhaps he also has some maturing to do. Not everyone can be Nomar Mazara.
The bottom line is the Rangers believe that Gallo can be an impact player in their lineup for years to come, even as soon as 2017. He won’t be handed a job in spring training, though he is expected to compete for one.
He will play first base in Venezuela to groom him for a potential — maybe likely — vacancy the Rangers could have at first base if Mitch Moreland is not re-signed. The Rangers also have a hole at designated hitter if Carlos Beltran isn’t re-signed.
There are at-bats to be had, in other words, and Gallo can earn them.
Winter ball could be what jump-starts his career.