Rua, Gallo hope one year makes huge difference

Disappointing 2015 season yields unique challenges to both Rangers

January 20th, 2016

ARLINGTON -- Ryan Rua was the Rangers' Opening Day left fielder until his season derailed in the first week because of a small right-heel fracture.

Joey Gallo, the Rangers' much-awaited power prodigy and top prospect, was one of 11 players used in left field to try to replace Rua, but his abbreviated rookie season was more of a struggle than a success.

Now they each face their own individual challenges. Rua has to prove he belongs on a Major League roster again, while Gallo must show last year's struggles didn't scar him, and he's still bound for Major League glory.

"My confidence is good ... it's great," Gallo said. "Last year was a good thing to go through and have that experience. It was a learning experience seeing how things are up here. I'm confident. I know I'm a good player."

The Rangers measured the progress of both this week, as Gallo and Rua were among the position players invited to a mini-camp over the weekend in Arlington. Rua is back in good graces with the organization after a difference of opinion with the Rangers following last season. The Rangers wanted him to play in the Arizona Fall League, but Rua declined for personal reasons.

"I talked to [general manager Jon Daniels]," Rua said. "We had a lengthy conversation and we both have a good understanding. It's behind us."

Rua needed the time off to prepare for his wedding and clear his head from a disappointing season. He seized the Opening Day job with a terrific Spring Training but never fully recovered after hurting the ankle during the home opener on April 10 against the Astros.

Rua had surgery on April 17, rehabbed for two months and never really hit the way the Rangers expected. He was activated on June 19, struggled and was sent to the Minor Leagues on Aug. 8. He got a September callup but was used sparingly. When it ended, Rua finished hitting .193 with a .221 on-base percentage and a .398 slugging percentage.

He was the right-handed bat the Rangers missed for most of the season until the team acquired Mike Napoli in August.

The Rangers entered the offseason looking for a right-handed bat and signed Justin Ruggiano to back up both Josh Hamilton and Shin-Soo Choo. The move signals the possibility that Rua will have a steep climb to again make the roster, but he faced that challenge last year when battling for the Opening Day left-fielder job against veteran competition.

"Without a doubt it's going to be a battle again going into Spring Training," Rua said. "I have some experience from last year, so I can look back and know I was successful. Just to be in this situation again is exciting."

Rua may face long odds to make the team, but he'll likely have a better chance than Gallo. Unless the unexpected happens, the Rangers want Gallo to develop in Triple-A after his 2015 season.

"It was a tough year," Gallo said. "But as I've said before, a lot of guys go through it. There are not a lot of guys who come up here and do what [Astros shortstop] Carlos Correa did. You have to go through the highs and the lows."

Part of the problem, Gallo said, was right-ankle surgery at the beginning of the season, which forced him to miss most of April. He said his conditioning never recovered the rest of the season.

"I felt my legs weren't where I wanted them to be," Gallo said.

That's why he has spent this offseason focusing on his conditioning program rather than trying to play winter ball.

"Right now I feel great physically, a lot better than at the end of last year," he said.

Gallo, after starting the 2015 season in Double-A, was with the Rangers in June and again in September. He played 36 games, hitting .204 with six home runs, 14 RBIs and 57 strikeouts in 108 at-bats. Possibly more dismaying was he struggled at Triple-A in July and August, hitting .195 with 14 home runs, 32 RBIs and 90 strikeouts in 200 at-bats.

"I don't think I struggled that bad [in the big leagues], but when I went down, I tried to make a lot of adjustments all at once and got all messed up," Gallo said. "It was more of me trying to do too much. This year I have a lot better feel for it.

"The one thing I learned is you have to stay confident and stay level. If you have a bad couple of weeks, just stay in an even place ... play a little easier. When you first get called up, you're all tense because you want to be a superstar. You just need to play and let it happen."

A year ago, Rua and Gallo were considered two of their top hitting prospects. The Rangers are hoping one rough year hasn't changed that.