For Gallo, a Web Gem is just as important as a home run

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – Joey Gallo saved the scouting reports, the ones written about him when he was a 6-foot-5, 18-year-old third baseman coming out of high school in Las Vegas, the ones that insisted his only path to the major leagues some day would be through his prodigious bat.

“Everybody always told me my whole life: ‘You’re going to be a first baseman, a DH,’” he recalled. “‘You don’t hit the ball enough to play in the big leagues. You’re not athletic enough.’ All that stuff.”

So, when he won the first of his two Gold Glove Awards in 2020 as the Rangers’ right fielder, Gallo pulled those scouting reports out of the old file and relished in the moment.

“I was always told I couldn’t,” he said. “And that helps, because you want to prove people wrong. It gives you a little fire. I’ve always been pretty athletic for my size and had a good arm. I didn’t want that to go to waste. I wanted to put it to good use, so I could look back one day and say I did everything I could to be the best baseball player I could be.”

Make no mistake, the Nationals signed Gallo for $5 million this winter primarily because of his ability to hit the ball very far in the air, something they as a team didn’t do nearly enough last season. But they were equally impressed with the 30-year-old’s abilities in the field, from the arm that has thrown out 42 runners from the outfield to the glove that has scooped up dozens of errant throws at first base to prevent his teammates from being charged with an error.

Gallo is here to mash homers, and to play good defense.

“He definitely takes a lot of pride in it,” manager Davey Martinez said. “And of course the way he swings the bat, that definitely was an attraction. But so was the athlete himself, and the fact he plays first base really well.”

The Nationals are still figuring out where exactly Gallo fits in on the field for them. He’ll probably get most of his playing time in left field, but so far this spring he’s been working exclusively in right field and at first base, splitting reps with Joey Meneses at the latter position.

And he’s putting in full-time work at both spots. During Wednesday’s workout, Gallo manned right field with Lane Thomas for a defensive drill that involved tracking balls down in the corner and in the gap, then firing it back in to the proper cutoff man. As soon as that drill was done, he immediately traded in his outfielder’s glove for a first baseman’s mitt and started turning 3-6-3 double plays.

“I probably should’ve taken a break for a second, I’m not going to lie,” he said with a laugh. “But that’s what we’re here to do: To make sure we get in shape and work. I want to prove to these guys I’m not a veteran who’s going to be sitting on his (rear) and not do this. I’m a veteran who is going to be working just as hard as you are. I want guys to see that, to say: ‘Dang, this guy’s (bleeping) running around the field!’ I think setting that tone, especially for a young team, is very important.”

Gallo has played five different positions during his nine-year career with the Rangers, Yankees, Dodgers and Twins. That includes 335 games in left field, 219 games in right field, 147 games at first base, 92 games at third base and even 67 games in center field, where his 250-pound frame may look out of place … until you see him chasing down fly balls with ease.

He treats every position he plays with the same level of respect. He understands the importance of getting regular work in the outfield, tracking fly balls off the bat, keeping his throws on target. And he simultaneously prioritizes his time in the infield, recognizing the difference a good first baseman makes for the rest of the group.

How does Gallo balance his time?

“It’s a lot, man. It’s exhausting,” he said. “But for me, it’s really important. When we’re doing infield work, I want to be with the infielders and building a relationship with those guys. Seeing how they throw, picking up on any tendencies they might have. As an infield, you want to be a good unit. That’s how a very good infield operates.”

It takes some legitimate physical skill to play both outfield and infield well, all the more so for someone as big as Gallo is.

Martinez couldn’t believe his eyes Wednesday when he looked at Gallo standing at the batting cage with his left leg raised all the way up to the ledge, the kind of flexibility rarely found in a 250-pound human being.

“The minute he did it, I just went: ‘Ow!’” Martinez said. “But he’s flexible. He runs really well for a big guy. As we all know, he was a Gold Glover. He takes care of himself. And he puts a lot of time in on his defense, which is awesome.”

Why is defense so important to Gallo? He’s topped the 40-homer mark twice in his career and has averaged 30 in each of his last six full seasons. He’s been paid millions of dollars for his prodigious bat. Why not just DH full-time and not have to worry about anything else?

The answer goes back to that scouting report from high school, the one that insisted Gallo would never be anything more than a power hitter. All these years later, he still enjoys proving them wrong.

“I’ve always been raised to play both sides of the ball. I was always taught defense is just as important,” he said. “So for me, I never wanted to be that guy that everyone just relies on to hit a homer, and that’s all he can really do. Honestly, we’re young for only so long, and I would like to really explore how good defensively I can be.

“I like to prove to people I can be more than just a homer-strikeout guy.”

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