Same trade as Sandy Alcántara, same age as Sandy Alcántara, similar Triple-A performance to Sandy Alcántara, but far less hype. Health permitting, right-hander Zac Gallen will pitch with him for the Marlins in the major leagues this season.
Our focus today is approximating the timing of that call-up and what to expect from Gallen once it arrives.
How did he get here? Traded from Cardinals to Marlins on December 14, 2017
MiLB 2018 Stats: 3.65 ERA, 4.33 FIP, 1.47 WHIP, 136 K in 133.1 IP
2019 ZiPS Projections: 4.39 ERA, 4.50 FIP, 1.41 WHIP, 111 K in 135.1 IP
Making his second appearance in the 2019 Grapefruit League on Saturday, Gallen failed to protect a 3-2 Marlins lead in the eighth inning. He took the loss.
However, as is so often the case during Spring Training, the stats can be misleading. Magneuris Sierra’s misadventure in right field allowed the go-ahead run to score:
Only in Spring Training: Hit down RF line goes into bullpen seating area; Magneuris Sierra hurries to pick up ball; ball gets stuck in used paper cup so he throws them in together— Fish Stripes (@fishstripes) March 2, 2019
Díaz had no chance to catch it cleanly pic.twitter.com/45CDTz95Vu
Prior to that, Gallen looked sharp. He struck out the first two batters of the inning, including this gorgeous inside-corner cutter to freeze Cardinals prospect Max Schrock:
These games don’t count and many of the opponents are unrecognizable, but it’s still a critical time of year for Gallen to regain his confidence. He was a quick cut from major league camp last spring, getting shelled for 18 runs—all earned—in 4 1⁄3 innings (37.38 ERA).
When Fish Stripes reported on Gallen’s story, left-hander Zach Rice described how his former teammate flopped in his first taste of the Duke-UNC rivalry. Motivated by revenge, Gallen approached the next matchup with “a readiness to kick ass,” dominated that start and progressed from there into an eventual third-round MLB Draft pick.
Entering 2019, Baseball America ranks him as the No. 19 prospect in the Marlins farm system:
Gallen is known more for his control than pure stuff, although his upper-80s cutter has become an above-average pitch that he can throw in any count. He stays in the low 90s with his fastball, touching 94 mph, and he changes speeds effectively with both a changeup and curveball. All of Gallen’s offerings are average-or-better pitches, and even though his walk rate ticked up to a career-worst 3.24 walks per nine innings this season, his above-average control helps all of his pitches play up.
Luck and mechanics will always be significant factors for a pitcher who doesn’t “overpower” you.
Navigating the Pacific Coast League in 2018 with Triple-A New Orleans, Gallen was victimized by an outrageous .405 batting average on balls in play during road starts (.292 BABIP at home). For all the concern about where offense is going to come from, the Marlins core position players are praised for their gloves, so he should have trust in his teammates converting more of those into outs moving forward.
Speaking of mechanics, Gallen explained to Wells Dusenbury of the Sun Sentinel how an adjustment to his delivery straightened out his summer:
“About the middle of the season we were talking and I said, ‘[My arm slot] doesn’t feel natural,’ ” Gallen said. “ ‘I feel like I’m getting caught [too high],’ so it was something we looked at.
“The cutter was something I knew I had to work on. I had it early and somewhere down the road just lost it, so that was something I just tried to concentrate on.”
I can’t see a scenario where the 23-year-old cracks the Opening Day roster. The Marlins retained all of the veteran rotation candidates through the offseason. As of Monday morning, they’ve been fortunate to avoid arm injuries of any kind. This creates a surplus that temporarily puts him on standby at Triple-A.
That being said, Gallen figures to be very high on the list of backup plans. He has consistently demonstrated good control (career 3.28 strikeout-to-walk ratio)—he won’t embarrass the Marlins in a spot start situation like a talented-but-raw pitcher might. Also, lacking the ceiling of a frontline starter, they won’t be blatant about manipulating his MLB service time once the opportunity is earned.
“I’m just trying to go out there and compete everyday,” Gallen tells Dusenbury about his Spring Training mindset, “show them what I’ve got and what I’m made of and hopefully those things fall into place.”
Which of these players acquired in the Marcell Ozuna trade do you think will have the most major league impact in 2019?
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