Turns out Joey Gallo is a great leadoff hitter. Just don't tell him that

May 18th, 2023

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Joey Gallo made it 781 games into his Major League career before it finally happened: One of his managers had the gall to slot him into the leadoff spot. Twins skipper Rocco Baldelli wasn’t there to see it, but he heard through the grapevine that Gallo had “some choice words, maybe, for [him] and a few other people.”

And then, a funny thing happened: Gallo immediately hit a homer (the one many people thought broke Statcast). Then, the next day, slotted into the leadoff spot again, Gallo hit another homer. A gaggle of writers joked with Gallo after that game that he’d homered in every career game he’d led off.

“Oh boy, don't tell Rocco that, please,” Gallo said. “Tell him I'm terrible leading off.”

“I don’t want to keep doing it,” he mumbled.

And thus, one of the more entertaining subplots of the young Twins season was born: The battle between Gallo, the successful leadoff hitter, and Gallo’s decisive lack of enthusiasm for his new role -- much of which has played out in the public eye in a rather entertaining manner. (In all seriousness, Gallo has said he’ll do whatever his coaches feel is best.)

“It's not that I don't want to, but I don't want to,” Gallo said with a laugh before Monday’s series opener against the Dodgers.

“He will be fine,” Baldelli countered. “The thoughts are always welcome, but right now at this moment, they’re not going to be taken into account. He’s going to hit leadoff for ... for ... at least today. And he’s handled it very well. He’s taken some great swings. And I’ll probably talk about it as little as possible.”

Gallo’s early success after the Twins signed him to a one-year, $11 million prove-it deal has been one of the more encouraging developments of the ‘23 season. He entered Thursday’s off-day with a .900 OPS, best among season-long regulars. He has also mashed a team-leading 10 homers -- including another out of the leadoff spot on Wednesday before exiting with a right leg contusion -- while playing solid defense at multiple positions.

When Max Kepler went down with injury, the Twins needed another hitter to step into the leadoff spot against right-handed pitching -- and though Gallo would long have been considered an unorthodox pick due to his extreme player profile centered around walks, homers and strikeouts, the Twins liked his fit in this situation, as explained by Twins bench coach and longtime Gallo whisperer Jayce Tingler.

“I've always wondered [about hitting him leadoff],” Tingler said. “Certainly, with some matchups or maybe he's got a chance to hit a home run early, or he has a chance to get a walk or on base or things like that. He runs the bases really, really well, which I think is not something that a lot of people that don't watch him on a daily basis realize.”

Gallo was unsure about the move because he’s used to having plenty of time to study an opposing pitcher first instead of simply having to go up and attack -- but he’s making the adjustment.

“I think that's the hardest part for me,” Gallo said. “That's what I'm not used to, like going up there and being the first guy to attack and kind of see what a pitcher's doing and stuff. I think that's what's different for me.”

Tingler laughs as he says Gallo is probably having fun with the situation by playing it up a little bit. But, hey, it’s working.

“It's just strange,” Gallo said. “It is what it is. We've been winning. So, it's a good indication just to keep doing it, you know?”