How did the industry miss on Futures Game star Joey Gallo?

July 14, 2014 - 6:36 am

MINNEAPOLIS -- Joey Gallo brought the All-Star Futures Game to its knees. And in so doing, he offered a frustrating reminder to about 29 teams. Gallo's power display -- first an epic batting practice in which Target Field proved incapable of holding his massive blasts within its confines, then a 95 mph blast to right field -- elicited awe from all onlookers. While the Futures Game is a showcase for the top power hitters in the minors, the 20-year-old was in a class by himself. "Did you watch his batting practice? That was probably the most incredible batting practice that I've ever seen in my life," Red Sox pitching prospect Henry Owens said. "He was hitting balls that were in a random parking lot." Indeed, Gallo busted the windshield of an SUV beyond the right field bleachers. "I think I win it," Gallo joked. "But I feel bad. They told me I hit it and I said, 'Oh, man, I hope I don't have to pay for that.' " Based on the scarcity of power in baseball right now, one can assume that Gallo will be able to afford whatever bills might come his way for his assault on metropolitan areas surrounding ballparks. But his face-melting display of power on Sunday raised a perplexing issue: How on earth did a player with top-of-the-scale power last until the Rangers tabbed him with the 39th pick in the 2012 draft? It is a question that Gallo struggles to answer. He recalls vividly the disappointment he experienced while watching the draft unfold. Power, after all, is usually a top-of-the-draft commodity, with 30-home run sluggers rarely making it beyond the first half of the first round. And he'd been in touch with teams picking between Nos. 10 and 20 in the daft. And so it was with great hopes that Gallo -- whose family had gotten a hotel room in his hometown of Las Vegas to accommodate a viewing party for family and friends -- anticipated the draft, and with great disappointment that he watched the early selections unfold. "We kind of had a feel. We had a few teams in the front of the draft that said, 'We're going to take you,' " Gallo recalled. "After those teams went, I kind of just went in the other room [at the hotel]. It was tough, especially seeing guys that you competed against. I was happy for them, but you wanted to be drafted high. It was tough to see. So I went in the other room with my friends, kind of sat there. My agent ended up calling and telling me about the Rangers. But it was definitely a really tough time to sit through it. It took, like, three hours." Gallo -- who also threw in the high-90s and thus also represented a pitching prospect -- was a known commodity in terms of his top-of-the-charts power. But in showcase events -- most notably, a national tournament in Cary, N.C. -- he struck out at what one evaluator described as "an alarming rate." That, in turn, led to concerns that he would be a one-dimensional masher. "People would always throw the word 'risk' around me. There was always [mention of] a risk, 'It's always risky to draft him," said Gallo. "You obviously want to show those people that you can be the player they think you're not. Most people just kind of said he'll never be anything better than an Adam Dunn guy. Well, he has, like, 500 home runs in the major leagues. I don't know why that's bad. But everyone wants a guy that hits .300 and 30 home runs. They want Miguel Cabreras. I'm obviously not Miguel Cabrera. But it's tough for people to think about a guy hitting .200 with 40 home runs. They want the .300 with 35 home runs, make the adjustments. ... I think it depends on the player. I'm going to do whatever it takes to get there." Still, at the time of the draft, teams struggled with what kind of floor they might be able to expect from a Las Vegas high school product who made batting practice an event but whose performance in games was a question. One team after another passed. The Red Sox, in fact, passed three times. The team was armed with two compensatory picks for the departure of Jonathan Papelbon via free agency, along with its own first-round selection at No. 24. The team took a pair of polished, high-probability players to start the draft -- tabbing shortstop Deven Marrero at No. 24 and left-hander Brian Johnson at No. 31, both of whom look like future big league regulars, Marrero as an above-average starting shortstop, Johnson as a rotation member with a No. 3 ceiling. Then, at No. 37, the team selected right-hander Pat Light -- a huge pitcher with a dominant fastball in college who looked like at least a late-innings bullpen option who could get swings and misses and grounders with his two-seamer, with a starter's potential if his secondary stuff improved. To date, Light has struggled for much of his pro career, going 6-10 with a 5.15 ERA in 150 minor league innings while also struggling to stay healthy. Two picks after the Sox picked Light, the Rangers selected Gallo, who immediately dazzled by launching 22 homers in 59 games in short-season ball, blasted 38 in 106 games in Single-A Hickory in 2013 and who has already slammed 31 homers in 85 games in High-A and Double-A this year. It's easy to wonder why the Sox didn't use any of their three selections on Gallo, of course -- and team officials have certainly looked back at a missed opportunity to add elite power. Yes, there was the swing-and-miss issue, and yes, there were signability questions (Gallo landed a $2.25 million bonus from the Rangers, a figure that was the equivalent of the No. 15 pick), but at the end of the day, Gallo was a missed opportunity -- for the Sox and each of the other 24 teams who had a chance at him before Texas grabbed him with the No. 39 pick; eight teams had multiple shots at him, and two besides the Red Sox had three cracks at him. Gallo won't be the last player on whom the industry whiffs. Nor, of course, is he the first. Years after the fact, the missed opportunities to find the next Albert Pujols or Paul Goldschmidt or Dustin Pedroia or Jon Lester keep scouting departments up at night, wondering why they missed. The answer is simple: Scouting is a hard, highly imperfect science in which misses are an accepted hazard of the trade. And on Sunday, the baseball industry -- the Rangers notwithstanding -- had a chance to watch in awe of what they missed with Gallo, while the slugger himself can now look back without regret. "For me, it was really bittersweet [when the call finally came at No. 39]. I was excited, like, 'I'm going to get to play for the Texas Rangers.' Obviously, the Rangers are a great organization, great city, great stadium, everything. That's somewhere that I wanted to play," recalled Gallo. "It didn't really work out the way we planned, but it worked out great for me in the long run."