Gil LeBreton

Joey Gallo’s hype — and future — loom large for Rangers

Joey Gallo hears the hype, but the young slugger is “still developing, still just trying to be a better player at the next level.”
Joey Gallo hears the hype, but the young slugger is “still developing, still just trying to be a better player at the next level.” Fort Worth Star-Telegram

Admittedly, the hype is large.

About 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds large.

It makes Texas Rangers spring training visitors gravitate to watch him hit batting practice. And, as some of us can personally attest, it can make traffic stop on Greenway Road, when a kid darts out to retrieve one of Joey Gallo’s camp home run balls.

Tapping the brakes, come to think of it, is a good idea.

Two seasons ago at age 19 — two years younger than most of the other players in the South Atlantic League — Gallo hit 38 of his season’s 40 home runs. Last year, in combined stops at High A Myrtle Beach and Double A Frisco, Gallo slugged 42.

At a time when the new commissioner, Rob Manfred, is publicly pondering an apparent drop-off in baseball’s offense, third baseman Joey Gallo is still circling the bases and stopping traffic.

The hype is loud, Gallo confessed.

“You hear it,” he said in the Rangers clubhouse. “It’s hard not to hear and see it nowadays, with the Internet and social media.

“I see it. I just try not to listen to it. When I talk to people, I tell them that this is still a developing process.

“Just because there is hype, I’m still developing, still just trying to be a better player at the next level.”

Some Rangers fans, giddy with expectation, want to see Gallo in Arlington by, say, Mother’s Day. But, again, tap the brakes.

Before Gallo can get to the big leagues, he still has to figure out Double A, where he powered majestic home runs last July and August but also struck out at a wind-shearing rate.

“I was just swinging too much there,” Gallo assessed. “I wasn’t being patient enough, wasn’t controlling the zone like I did in High A. I got up there and almost wanted to prove something, and it kind of got in my head a little bit. That’s something I want to be better at this year.”

He gets it, in other words, even if a growing number of hyperventilating Rangers fans don’t.

“I got up there and tried to do way too much, tried to hit a home run every at-bat,” Gallo said. “Obviously, that’s not going to work.

“I had some success. But I want it to be better than that. My High A season compared to my Double A season were almost night and day.”

When the 2014 season was done, Gallo returned home to Las Vegas and sifted through the night of his final two months with his mentor, freshly retired slugger Jason Giambi.

Gallo seems to have done his homework. The swing that we’ve been seeing in the batting cages is quicker and lacks the dramatic looping load motion that he once had.

Instead of waiting for a fastball with his name on it, Gallo was urged by Giambi to be patient and hit what’s pitched. Control the strike zone more, as Giambi put it.

Gallo turned 21 in November. If he starts in Frisco, as expected, he’ll still be one of the youngest players in the Texas League.

But there is this: After being selected No. 39 in the 2012 draft — a supplemental first-round pick that the Rangers received for losing C.J. Wilson — Gallo has never taken long to solve and progress through each stop in the Texas farm system.

The Rangers already have a third baseman, of course. Adrian Beltre, soon to turn 36, mans the position on his way to Cooperstown. Beltre’s contract is scheduled to expire at the end of the 2016 season.

Even a 37-year-old Beltre may end up being attractive to the Rangers. Gallo, therefore, at some point, may have to show that he’s a better third baseman than a senior Beltre, or he may have to use the outfield glove that he brought to camp this year.

Either way, it’s Gallo’s bat that should determine when he gets to Arlington.

He just has to find the patience to control the strike zone. Clearly, as the hype suggests, he already owns the ballpark parking lots.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @gilebreton

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