At 19-years-old, Austin Gallagher posted some quality numbers for the Inland Empire 66ers of the California League in 2008: .293/.349/.456 with five home runs and 33 doubles. As a big third baseman with power potential, people thought he could even be the next prospect to man the hot corner for the Dodgers.
But here we are in 2012, and Gallagher, a 2007 third-round pick, has never played above High-A ball. In fact, he was demoted to Low-A Great Lakes for the 2009 season — a season in which he struggled: .257/.319/.345. Last season, he played with Rancho Cucamonga for the second consecutive season (and the third time in four years in the Cal League) and posted a career-best .838 OPS — as a 22-year-old. Not bad, but not great, either. He also hit a career-high 13 home runs and drew 62 walks.
So how about in 2012? Well, he’s been up and down, but he’s showing power like he never has before: eight home runs in 123 at-bats, good for a 15.3 AB/HR rate. His career AB/HR rate coming into the season was 49.7. It could just be that his fourth season in the Cal League is the charm, or it could be that he’s actually improving his power stroke. Worth noting is that his batting average has dipped from the previous two seasons (.291 to .292 to .260), so he may be sacrificing average for more power, as his slugging percentage is a career-best .484 right now.
The 6’5″, 210-pounder (I’ve seen him in person — he weighs more than 210) has been playing mostly first base for the Quakes, and hasn’t played third base since 2008, so his bat has to take a step up for him to be relevant. Another thing working against him is his performance against left-handed pitching. Gallagher owns a .189/.231/.324 line against lefties this season after posting a .255/.336/.294 line against them last year.
He’s taken a lot of time to develop, but he has a sweet left-handed stroke and can obviously generate power with his large frame. But can he do it against advanced competition? It might be time to find out.
The Chattanooga Lookouts have a converted catcher, J.T. Wise, playing first base most of the time. The Lookouts play in a league without a designated hitter, so Gallagher would be hard-pressed to find at-bats, but if the Dodgers want to see if Gallagher is worth keeping around — he’ll have to be placed on the 40-man roster after the season to be exempt from the Rule 5 Draft in the winter — they might want to challenge him soon.
He has decent on-base skills — never lower than an 8.2 percent walk rate — and doesn’t strike out a ton for a guy who can put the ball over the fence — 19.5 percent strikeout rate for his career — but like a lot of fringy Dodgers prospects, it’s still best not to get one’s hopes up.