Miami Marlins’ Zac Gallen ready for MLB debut
Zac Gallen’s two professional baseball worlds collided on Wednesday as soaked in the scene from the field at Busch Stadium before the Miami Marlins played the St. Louis Cardinals for the third time in a four-game series.
He’ll be right in the middle of it on Thursday.
The Marlins will officially activate Gallen, the Marlins’ No. 18 overall prospect according to MLBPipeline, on Thursday to start the series finale against the Cardinals after a stellar start to the season in Triple A New Orleans. The Cardinals traded Gallen, who they selected in the third round of the 2016 MLB Draft out of the University of North Carolina, along with Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra and Daniel Castano to the Marlins in December 2017 in exchange for outfielder Marcell Ozuna. Alcantara is also part of the Marlins’ starting rotation. Sierra is a starting outfielder at the Triple A level and Castano was recently promoted to Double A Jacksonville.
“It’s kind of funny,” Gallen said. “When you get drafted by a team, you think you’re going to make it to their stadium in their uniform. But, you know, I’m wearing a different uniform. It’s awesome, though. It’s everything you ever dream of.”
Gallen’s callup to the 25-man active roster will come at the expense of Pablo Lopez, who the Marlins placed on the 10-day injured list Wednesday with a right-shoulder strain. The severity of Lopez’s injury is unknown, but Marlins manager Don Mattingly said pregame Wednesday that Lopez is undergoing an MRI back in Miami and the team will have more information once the test results come back.
Gallen, a third-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft out of the University of North Carolina, is the third starting pitcher to be called up in the past two weeks after the Marlins used just five starters during the course of their first 64 games of the 2019 season. Elieser Hernandez has started two games in place of Caleb Smith, who the Marlins placed on the 10-day IL on June 7 with left hip inflammation. Jordan Yamamoto has started two games for Jose Urena, who is on the 60-day IL with a herniated disc in his lower back.
Gallen, who has been one of the Marlins’ most consistent pitchers in the minor leagues, was not an option at those times. With Smith’s injury considered minor, the Marlins opted for Hernandez to take his place since he was already on the 40-man roster and no corresponding move would needed to be made. Urena’s injury surfaced two days after Gallen had started for the Baby Cakes, so he would not have had enough rest to make the scheduled start.
“Timing is everything for guys,” Marlins president of baseball operations Michael Hill said last week. “Zac is doing what he has to do. He has to continue to pitch well. He’s going to have his time. As a player, you don’t really control anything but your own destiny as far as your performance. For guys, that’s really the main thing, just control what you can control. Don’t worry about the decisions that are being made, for all different reasons. When his time is here, just be ready to go.”
Gallen added: “Any time you’re pitching well, you kind of just want it to happen. As a competitor, you want to come and get in that rhythm and stay in that rhythm. At the same time, you have to wait your turn. There are certain factors that come into play other than just performance. I understand that. ... It’s finally here, and I’m excited.”
Gallen, the Marlins believe, is now ready to go.
He is a 6-foot-2, 23-year-old right-handed pitcher who has carved up the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League this year. He is 9-1 with a 1.77 ERA over 14 starts at Triple A, striking out a minor-league best 112 batters while walking just 17 in 91 1/3 innings. He threw at least six innings in all but three of his starts this year.
“He’s obviously having a really good year in Triple A,” Mattingly said. “Just another young, exciting guy for us, a guy with real nice pitchability, got a number of pitches, can mix and match with his stuff and a little bit of power too.”
Gallen’s scouting report, per MLBPipeline: “Gallen gets results without plus stuff. His upper-80s cutter has been his bread-and-butter pitch, and he works it to both sides of the plate with the ability to backdoor it for strikes against left-handers. His low-90s fastball tops out at 94 but plays up because he creates downward plane and commands his heater well.
“Gallen also keeps hitters off balance by varying the speed on his changeup and curveball, with the latter a slightly better offering. He does a nice job of repeating his clean delivery, allowing him to fill the bottom of the strike zone. He has one of the highest floors among the organization’s pitching prospects.”
As for Lopez, his injury comes after a strong run on the mound over the last month. Lopez has posted a 2.27 ERA with 31 strikeouts over 35 2/3 innings of work throughout his last six starts. The Marlins went 4-2 in those starts.
“You want to get ahead of [the injury],” Mattingly said, “especially with the situation we’re in and building this thing and building it with what we consider a good, young starting rotation. You don’t want to take chances with those guys. You want to make sure you’re staying on top of it and really try to get them back on the field and on the mound as soon as possible to continue to gain experience.”
More roster moves
With Lopez on the IL and the Marlins not needing a starting pitcher until Thursday, the Marlins called up left-handed relief pitcher Jose Quijada on Wednesday to add depth to the bullpen.
The Marlins also acquired outfielder Cesar Puello from the Los Angeles Angels for cash considerations and designated Rosell Herrera for assignment.
Puello, 28, has posted a .390 batting average with three home runs, 12 RBI and six runs scored over 12 games for the Angels this year. All 12 of his starts have been in left field. He has a career .307 batting average at the MLB level over 29 games.
Puello played 42 games with the Angels’ Triple A affiliate, hitting .299 with seven home runs, 27 RBI and 25 runs scored before being called up on May 29.