Gallego charged with sowing seeds within farm

Former big leaguer views low rankings as motivation

March 12th, 2016

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Angels' Minor League camp hosts its first full-squad workout on Saturday. At 10 in the morning, Mike Gallego, in his first year running the development of an entire farm system, will address 154 young players, many of them for the very first time. And he pretty much already has a theme in mind.
"We're ranked 30th," Gallego said. "There's no team below us. That challenges myself and our staff, but it should upset our players."
Gallego, a former Major League infielder and long-time third-base coach, is the Angels' new director of baseball development. The 55-year-old Los Angeles product was less than two months removed from being dismissed as the A's third-base coach when first-year general manager Billy Eppler -- a scout with the Rockies while Gallego served on the Major League coaching staff -- reached out about a job around the middle of October.
Angels Top 30 Prospects
Gallego thought Eppler would be interested in hiring him as a roving infield instructor, a job he held shortly after his playing career ended. Instead, Eppler entrusted Gallego to oversee the maturation of a Minor League system that is widely considered to be the worst in the industry.
"I accepted it as a new challenge and a new area of my career," Gallego said, "but it's something that I have a lot to learn still."
Eppler sought someone with good organizational skills, a deep-rooted knowledge of the game and, most importantly, a passion for teaching.
Breaking down the Angels' Top 30 Prospects
The Angels have only one first-round Draft pick, catcher Taylor Ward, in their farm system. They gave up their other first-round pick, Sean Newcomb, for Andrelton Simmons. They made an international splurge on shortstop Roberto Baldoquin and no one else. And because they're a club perpetually in win-now mode, they don't trade Major League players for prospects.
They need to make up for all of that on the development side.
"It's incredibly important," said Mike LaCassa, the Angels' 29-year-old director of Minor League operations who will work side-by-side with Gallego.
"It's about what can we do in every single area to maximize their development in that area, to get that extra one percent better, whether it's proper nutrition, proper sleep, their mental and cognitive development. What are we doing in those areas? Are we maximizing their physical strength and speed development? Are we maximizing the baseball fundamentals? You have to look at every single one of those areas as what actually creates a baseball player, and you can't let anything slide."
Go in-depth on the Angels' Minor League affiliates
The Major League side and the Minor League department were basically divided last year, a product of constant conflict between longtime manager Mike Scioscia and two former Angels executives who are now with the Mariners, Jerry Dipoto and Scott Servais.
Dipoto, the ex-GM who holds the same title in Seattle, entrusted Servais, now the Mariners' rookie manager, to run his farm system.
Eppler is taking a two-pronged approach.
LaCassa, entering his fifth season with the organization, wears a polo shirt and essentially handles the administrative side. Gallego wears a baseball uniform, runs the on-field instruction and, in his words, will "kind of be the liaison to the big league side and the Minor League side."
For the first time this year, the Angels are installing a TrackMan Doppler radar system at all of their affiliate ballparks to gauge spin rate, exit velocity and many other analytical data points to better evaluate their prospects.
They'll employ a nutritionist and a mental skills coach for the second year. They'll start their Minor League practices a couple of hours later to ingrain proper sleeping habits ("fatigue management," as they call it). They'll preach the importance of solidified short- and long-term goals to their young players. And they'll do their best to keep the on-field instruction simple.
Position players will focus on "the red zone," a concept where hitters will be very selective until they get into two-strike counts. Pitching will be all about pounding the strike zone and generating weak contact.
Gallego has seen the vast majority of the Angels' prospects already. Twenty-five of them were invited to "Champions Camp" at the start of February, a 3 1/2-week clinic that emphasized strength and speed, featured one-on-one instruction and included guest speakers like Bud Black and Daniel Nava. Many others reported early to camp.
"These guys are blue collar for me," Gallego said. "You go walk around this Minor League side, and we have a bunch of blue-collar players who bust their tail every single day and understand."
Under the previous regime, Scioscia felt the Angels' prospects went away from bunting, situational hitting and aggressive baserunning, according to people familiar with the situation. Right or wrong, the philosophies preached to Angels Minor Leaguers will mainly flow from Scioscia now, so that the players who matriculate do the things he likes at the Major League level.
Gallego, who will work closely with new field coordinator Jack Howell, has spent most of the spring familiarizing himself with the way Scioscia approaches the game. He sees the Angels' farm system deploying "an old-school type of mentality with the new-school approach of having a plan."
Gallego has inherited what many consider the worst collection of prospects in baseball, and he wants his new young players to take that personally.
"I would," Gallego said. "If I were in this organization, I would definitely take it to heart. To me, it's kind of an extra push to say, 'You know what, we're ranked 30th, but come in and play [Triple-A] Salt Lake, play [Double-A] Arkansas. See what type of game they bring to you every day, and at the end of the season, tell me that these guys are ranked 30th for whatever reason they are. There's no expectations. Nobody's expecting these guys to compete, other than themselves and us. That's the mentality that we have around here."