Zac Gallen was part of the return for Marcell Ozuna and while he was decent at Triple-A last season (3.65 ERA, 1.47 WHIP over 133.1 IP) it hardly would fall into the category of “good”. His first six starts at Triple-A in 2019, however? The numbers have been eye opening:
48 K (10.70 K/9)
5 BB (1.12 BB/9)
49.4% Groundball Rate
Obviously he’s not quite this good, having benefited from a .157 BABIP and 97.7% strand rate, but something is working. Small sample size or not, the skills have improved across the board.
Prior to the season Baseball America described him by saying:
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.
That doesn’t sound like an elite pitcher, or one who could post this type of line. He’s always demonstrated strong control (2.4 BB/9 for his career), but it’s the strikeouts and groundballs that have improved dramatically. Keep in mind that he has a career minor league K/9 of 8.6, though he has consistently proven capable of getting swings and misses this season (13.6% SwStr%, compared to 9.9% last season). He also owns a minor league career 0.90 GO/AO, but is up to 1.19 this season.
Is it a short sample size aberration or has he unlocked something? Time will tell, but for now take a little bit of a cautious approach (especially as he saw his groundball rate take a noticeable step backwards in his most recent outing). That doesn’t mean don’t add him, as he’s definitely going to get an opportunity at some point in ’19, just know that there’s the risk that things regress rather quickly. He should be solid, but he’s not this good and therefore don’t overpay expecting some unsustainable performance to continue.
Sources – MILB.com, Fangraphs, Baseball Reference