Turn Down The K’s: Joey Gallo & Clint Frazier
In this pitcher’s era, it is important to make sacrifices (I’m not talking about bunts. #neverbunt) for offense. The days of well-rounded sluggers seem to have gone the way of the snap bracelet and fanny pack. Strikeouts have increased every year since 2005. That same year, the average big leaguer hit .264, compared to a .252 league-average today. It has become more and more acceptable to tolerate a low batting average as long as there is power attached (or catching, see: Gomes, Yan or Vasquez, Christian). With this new approach to offense, those four to five category hitters are even more of an endangered species, which makes hitters that can limit their strikeouts even more valuable. Luckily for dynasty owners, this type of plate discipline is a skill that can be honed during time spent in the minor leagues (and sometimes even at the major-league level, what’s up Odubel Herrera!).
Several young studs have taken steps in the right direction to remedy, or at least curb those strikeout issues. Two in particular, Rangers third base farm hand Joey Gallo and Indians outfielder Clint Frazier have managed to build on their already highly touted prospect reputation by cutting down on the whiffs. By limiting strikeouts while still maintaining power, these sluggers could provide impact without torpedoing their batting average, making them well-rounded options for dynasty lineups.
Joey Gallo 3B Texas
Gallo has topped prospect lists for several seasons, mostly because his otherworldly raw power, which can make even Giancarlo Stanton blush. The Rangers drafted Gallo with the 39th overall selection back in 2012 out of Bishop Gorman high school in Las Vegas. As many know, Gallo got acclimated to playing with other superstars at a very young age, as he shared a high school dugout with Orioles outfielder Joey Rickard and played little league with some kid named Bryce Harper.
Gallo burst onto the scene in his first year as a pro, smacking 18 homers in 260 plate appearances as an 18-year-old. While his 2012 performance was exciting, Gallo put the baseball world on notice the following season, clubbing 40 home runs across two levels. Just to make sure people were paying attention, he also swiped 15 bases in 16 attempts (this was pretty much the last year he would run, but still). While the power totals set the world abuzz, so did the strikeout numbers. In Rookie-Ball and Low-A, Gallo struck out 172 times in 467 plate appearances, good (well, bad…you know what I meant) for a staggering 38 percent.
If 2013 was a breakout year for Gallo, 2014 solidified him as one of the premiere power hitters in the minor leagues. He split his season between High-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Frisco, launching 21 home runs at each stop, en route to another 40-plus home run campaign. Gallo even showed better plate discipline in his stint in High-A, pairing 64 strikeouts with 51 walks. The progress screeched to a halt in Double-A, however, when Gallo struck out in nearly 40 percent of his 291 plate appearances. In 2015, Gallo started the season with another tour of Double-A. This go around produced much better results, as he slashed .314/.425/.636 as a 21-year-old, lowering his strikeout rate to “only” 34 percent. The progress did not last, however.
Gallo spent the remainder of 2015 striking out in Triple-A Round Rock and also in a 36 game cup of coffee with the Rangers, at a rate of nearly 42 percent. To put into context, renowned strikeout artist Steven Souza, Jr. currently leads the majors with a strikeout rate of 35.7 percent. While Gallo’s strikeout totals are unnerving, an uplifting trend started to reveal itself. In his second stint at each level, he has cut down on the strikeouts each time, without sacrificing the prodigious power. Case in point, thus far in 2016, he has been on an absolute tear in Triple-A, hitting .287/.428/.626 with 10 dingers. Maybe even more importantly, he has 29 walks to pair with his 36 strikeouts.
If Gallo can continue his trend of improvement, he’s a no doubt fantasy stud, which I’m sure is pretty obvious. The Rangers have a pretty crowded roster at the moment, but if the benching of Prince Fielder continues, Gallo should force his way into the lineup sometime this summer. The time to buy low on him after his ugly taste of the big leagues is likely well past, but it would probably still be a good idea to check in with Gallo owners early in his next major-league stint. If he starts slow, while maintaining the strikeout rate improvement, it could be a good time to swoop in. You will be rewarded with a showering of homers.
Clint Frazier OF Cleveland
When Frazier was selected fifth overall by the Indians in the 2013 draft, there was plenty to be excited about with the Georgia outfielder. The MLB Network did nothing to temper expectations in their draft coverage, comparing Frazier to Mike Trout, who was at the time in the middle of a historic season. Sadly for Indians fans, Frazier is not Trout. On the bright side, however, he’s still really good and has shown significant improvement as he has progressed through the system.
Coming out of high school, scouts raved about Frazier’s quick hands and about how quickly he could get the barrel to the ball. At the same time, there were questions about whether he could develop a good enough approach at the plate to utilize this strength and not swing and miss his way out of the league (the “Javy Baez Dilemma,” if you will). In Frazier’s first taste of pro ball, he hit .297, with an OPS of .868 and five dingers in Rookie-Ball. While those numbers indicated promise, he also struck out in 31.1 percent of his 196 plate appearances. Frazier spent his entire age 19 season in the Midwest League, putting up a decent, yet uninspiring line of .266/.349/.411. He slugged 13 homers in 542 plate appearances, and slightly lowered his strikeout rate to 29.7 percent. Promising enough, however his walk rate also dropped. Needless to say, decent, yet uninspiring numbers are not what you hope for from a top five pick.
Frazier’s 2015 promotion to High-A provided a spark leading to better numbers and reclamation of his previous top prospect buzz. In 588 plate appearances, he socked 16 home runs on his way to a line of .285/.377/.465. He increased his walk rate from 7.1 percent to over 11 percent, and even stole 15 bases (in 22 attempts). Most importantly, Frazier took a huge step forward with his plate discipline, striking out only 125 times, for a 21.3 percent rate. The idea that Frazier’s mental approach at the plate was catching up with his immense physical tools provided excitement in not only the Indians organization but also to dynasty owners everywhere.
Thus far, Frazier, who is still only 21-years-old, has continued his progress against tougher competition. In 2016, Frazier has torched Double-A pitchers to the tune of .304/.401/.514, with six long balls already in 188 plate appearances. He has also continued to improve his discipline rates, walking 13.5 percent of the time and striking out at a 19.5 percent clip. With Akron teammate Bradley Zimmer struggling with whiffs (30.8 percent), it is easy to make the argument that Frazier could be seen as the Indians’ top prospect. Further, with Marlon Byrd’s suspension adding to the tire fire of an outfield situation in Cleveland, it’s not out of the question that dynasty owners could see the red-headed wonder patrolling the outfield in The Jake (sorry, Progressive Field just isn’t nearly as cool) as soon as this summer.