This story is about a minor leaguer, but not the usual minor league story you will see here, because it doesn't involve a prospect. John Gall, a 30 year old NRI outfielder in the Astros' spring camp,
John Gall was one of the hitting heroes in the first spring training game, and when he first appeared in the game, our game thread had several, "who is this guy?" questions. This profile likely will be the only story we write about him. I have always been intrigued by the so-called AAAA hitter---the career minor leaguer who masters AAA but never quite makes it to the major leagues. The "what if?" questions are part of the intrigue. The "Crash" Davis character in the movie, Bull Durham, appeals to all good baseball fans.
I have followed Cardinals' blogs, like vivaelbirdo.com, over the years--keeping up with the Astros' rivals, you know--and that is why I had some familiarity with Gall. Gall had somewhat of a following among Cardinals fans, perhaps a "root for the underdog" inclination, and you would see the occasional "free John Gall" postings, as well as fans' requests to replace some veteran bench player with Gall. To this day, you will see the term "John Gall type player" at vivaelbirdos.com.
(teaser: minor league video inside)
Gall was drafted in the 11th round out of Stanford, and at one time was listed as the 6th rated prospect in the Cardinals' system. He has been the Cardinals' organizational player of the year twice. His cousin is D-Backs' outfielder Eric Byrnes.
In 2002 AA ball, Gall hit .316 with 20 HRs. Promoted to AAA Memphis, he hit .312 with 16 HRs. In 2004 , he increased his AAA home run total to 22 and drove in 84 runs. He got off to a sizzling start to the 2005 AAA season, He got his first chance in the majors on July 26, 2005 when Larry Walker was place on the DL. In his debut game, he went 2 for 4 with a double. With Walker's return, Gall was sent back down only eight day later, with 4 hits, 2 doubles and 2 RBI. Over the course of his 22-game 2005 ML stint, he hit .270 with .514 slugging and nearly .800 OPS. Gall was on the Cardinals' playoff roster in 2005, when the Astros defeated St. Louis in the NLCS. Gall was playing in Korea when the Cardinals won the World Series in 2006, but the Cardinals sent him a World Series ring for his brief time on the ML roster early in that season.
In 2006, Gall got only 12 at bats in the majors, and the Cardinals sold his contract to a Korean team at mid-season. He had a .361 OBP and .401 SLG at Memphis at the time. The Cardinals said they made this move in order to give Gall an opportunity to earn more money than he was making in Memphis. The Cards' GM also noted that Gall would be a free agent in 2007, meaning his days as a prospect were over.
Gall had subsequent time with the Marlins' AAA team in 2007 - 2008, hitting at a .300 and .312 clip, with an OPS of .839 and .862. He also had a stint in Japan last year. He was a hero on the 2008 U.S. Olympic team which won the bronze in China, which gave him his Andy Warhol moment of fame, with a guest appearance on the Oprah Winfrey show, an invitation to the White House, and as guest of California Gov. Arnold Schwartzeneggar. However, at this point in his career, Gall fits under the inelegant description of "Triple A Filler." You will probably see him roam the outfield at Round Rock, but he isn't likely to appear on the major league roster unless Jason Michaels goes on the DL, or the Astros decide to reward him with a September call up. Considering that CHONE and Marcel project a .260-ish batting average and an OPS in the .720 -.730 range, he likely would be a decent pinch hitter replacement if Michaels goes down.
So how does a guy with career minor league numbers around .300 and a mid-800's OPS end up at that point? At his peak, Gall likely would have been an average to slightly above average major league hitter, but he received only 53 at bats in the major leagues. He was blocked for three years in AAA by Larry Walker and Juan Encarnacion. By 2006, Skip Schumaker, a similar hitter with more speed and defensive ability, had surpassed Gall in the Cardinals' organization. Gall's situation shows how difficult it is for minor league hitters to make it to the majors as a corner outfielder. Scouts described Gall as an intelligent line drive hitter with plate discipline. But, given the slugging ability of ML left and right fielders, his offense is good but it doesn't stand out. An outfielder with that profile needs to have other tools which stand out, like blazing speed or outstanding defense, and Gall is at best average in those areas.
During spring training with the Marlins last year, Gall complimented Schumaker, whose blistering spring was heading him toward a starting ML slot for the Cardinals. The St. Louis reporter said his comment had a "Done that; Missed that" tone. Interviewed by a Memphis newspaper last year, Gall explained why he continues to play in AAA:
''Opportunities are fleeting in this game and you never know when one might hit you over the head,'' he said. ''That's why I continue to play."
Since we are talking about career minor leaguers, I will leave you with one of the more outrageous minor league scenes on You Tube. You probably saw this display by the AA Braves skipper on television replays last year. Think of a Piniella or Durocher temper tantrum...on steroids.
Mississippi Braves AA Manager Phillip Wellman goes crazy (via okawesome)