SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Joey Gallo's transition to full-time first baseman has gone smoothly enough that perhaps the most challenging adjustment right now is being 100 feet away from hard-hitting left-handed sluggers like himself."The hardest thing is the lefties that pull, those topspin balls down the line, that's always tough --
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- Joey Gallo's transition to full-time first baseman has gone smoothly enough that perhaps the most challenging adjustment right now is being 100 feet away from hard-hitting left-handed sluggers like himself.
"The hardest thing is the lefties that pull, those topspin balls down the line, that's always tough -- those big guys, a guy like me, I would hate to play first against," Gallo said. "Other than that, I'm pretty comfortable playing over there. I don't really have any plays where I'm like, 'Oh, I don't like doing this.' I have a pretty good feel over there."
Gallo's extended tryout as the Rangers' everyday first baseman last September went well enough for him to earn the job this season. Having already logged sporadic appearances there backing up Mike Napoli, Gallo started 14 of the final 16 games of the 2017 season at first base. With Napoli gone, the job is Gallo's, and the Rangers believe he could mature into an above-average defender in the role.
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"[He's] a tremendous athlete, moves very well, feet are tremendous," Rangers manager Jeff Banister said. "He's very agile, he's not your typical 6-foot-5 baseball athlete. This is a different cat. I think he has the skillset to be that now.
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"He's learning the position and continuing to play it and embrace it, and I think he has an opportunity to be [a plus defender] pretty quick."
The Rangers grew accustomed to having a top-notch defensive first baseman with Mitch Moreland at the position from 2010-16. Moreland won a Gold Glove Award at first base in his final season with the Rangers. Napoli was a veteran who knew and played the position with proficiency, but he wasn't as nimble or dynamic as Moreland was and Gallo hopes to be.
"There were times we missed that," Banister said. "It's hard to replace a Gold Glover. Mitch made it look so easy at times. That's why having a guy like that over there is so comforting for your infielders who are making athletic plays. That internal time clock and getting rid of the baseball on guys who can really scoot down the line -- do you throw the ball or do you put it in your pocket? You know that if you get it moving in the right direction, the chances are that a Gold Glove first baseman is going to pick it for you or come off and make a play for you."
In addition to his athletic ability and quickness, the 24-year-old Gallo brings some built-in advantages to his new role. He is taller and has more reach than most first basemen, giving his infielders a significantly larger target to aim for.
Gallo also believes that coming up through the Minors as a third baseman has given him extra insight on the teamwork and tactics required to turn a ground ball into an out.
"I understand tendencies with infielders," Gallo said. "What throw is going to be tough for him to make? If they're going to two-seam a ball, if they might bounce a ball -- I understand because I've playing infield my whole life. So I have that advantage where I haven't only been playing first. I've been on the other side of the field, too. So from their aspect I can understand.
"I want to be the best I can for them, because I know how important it is to have a good first baseman. It can make a defense or break a defense. If I'm over there and I'm playing well, I feel like we're going to have a very good defense this year."
Dave Sessions is a contributor to MLB.com.