I’m becoming increasingly infatuated with Zac Gallen. Like any good researcher, I’ll first call attention to a significant bias. I could chuck a rock from my hometown and hit his hometown. South Jersey for the win. But home cooking aside, Gallen is currently the best pitcher in Triple-A, and it isn’t particularly close. This year that kind of dominance is especially impressive. Triple-A started using the same juiced ball as MLB, and the Pacific Coast League of Triple-A was already notoriously friendly to hitters. To quote a caller from the Mike Francesa show on Friday: “They took the juice out of the players and put it into the ball.”
We’ll dive deeper into the specifics of Gallen’s performance after the jump. In the meantime, take a hard look at stashing Gallen in all formats if you haven’t already done so. He’s begun to appear in Grey’s buy column, and has been a member of both the May and June stash lists. Consider today’s individual spotlight on Gallen similar to the giant neon sign I put up about Austin Riley a few weeks ago.
Gallen was one of the chips the Cardinals gave up when they acquired Marcell Ozuna. His first run through Triple-A with the Marlins in 2018 wasn’t bad, but wasn’t anything spectacular either (3.65 ERA with 136 strikeouts in 133 innings pitched). I’d quote myself from the offseason Marlins preview here, but he wasn’t even on my radar, so there’s nothing to quote. I did find him ranked 13th on Ralph’s list heading into 2018, but it’s not like he was predicting anything like what we’re seeing now either.
On to 2019. Gallen’s ERA (1.29), strikeouts (99), innings pitched (81), and wins (8) are best among all Triple-A pitchers. One of the largest improvements from last year has been his success against lefties. Lefties went from hitting .312 against Gallen in 2018 to just .127 in 2019. Meanwhile, his strikeout percentage has risen by 10% while his walk percentage has settled back to 5%, after it had steadily increased to 8% over the past three seasons. It’s all good. Statistically, there’s nothing that hasn’t improved. Reportedly, there’s also been an increase of ~2 MPH on his sitting velocity. For Gallen, that’s sitting 94-95 instead of 92-93. Big difference.
As far as opportunity, the 23-year-old Gallen is now on the brink of a call to Miami. While he is not on the current 40-man roster, that can be arranged. Plus, it’s not like the Miami rotation is set in stone. In fact, when you look at their depth chart, the starter for Tuesday is listed as TBD. Could it be Gallen? His last start for New Orleans came on June 4th and he’s scheduled to pitch today against Sacramento. I’d pay attention to how the Baby Cakes use him. Even if it’s not Tuesday, the Marlins will most likely bring Gallen up by the end of this month. If you set his call at the All-Star Break, I’d bet a cold Coor’s Light (the most valuable thing I own) on the under.
What can we expect going forward, especially for this season? Steamer is projecting an ERA right around 4.00 with 70 strikeouts in 69 innings pitched. That’s serviceable in all formats, especially considering that I’m currently rostering guys like Trent Thornton (4.73) in the back of my rotation. I’d easily swap a guy like that for the upside of Gallen. Are there prospects with better stuff and more upside that you can stash for the second half of this year? Absolutely. Are any of them pitching better than Gallen right now? Nope.