MINNEAPOLIS -- As baseball's brightest young stars lined up to play catch before Sunday's All-Star Futures Game at Target Field, the game's two best power-hitting prospects decided to pair up. It might have been the first time that Cubs' prospect Kris Bryant and Rangers' prospect Joey Gallo have met up on a major league diamond, but it's almost surely not the last.
The similarities between the two are almost eerie. Both Bryant and Gallo are third basemen, have exactly 31 home runs on the season, and are ranked by Baseball America among the top four prospects in all of baseball. But the connection between the pair extends far past the foul lines, as Bryant and Gallo grew up playing against one another in Las Vegas and remain friends today.
"I knew him," Bryant said about growing up in Las Vegas with Gallo. "I played with his older brother in club ball, so he was always at the games and I would always watch him play with the older brothers. I grew up playing with him, too. In high school, we played against each other and his high school team always beat me. He’s always been a great ballplayer with a lot of power, and I look forward to watching him play."
"Ever since I can remember, our families were always together," said Gallo, who was named Futures Game MVP after hitting a two-run, go-ahead home run in the sixth inning. "Our dads were pretty much best friends, and they still are because they coach together. [Bryant] was always with my older brother because they're the same age. We grew up together, played against each other, practiced against each other and everything so it’s kind of funny that we’re here together."
Despite the two-year difference in age, the pair of prospects matched up against each other in high school. Both agreed that Gallo's school, Bishop Gorman High, was the superior team to Bonanza High, where Bryant played. Gallo, who pitched during his sophomore season, remembers giving up a hit to the elder Bryant, who was a senior at the time.
Bryant and Gallo both grew up playing with Nationals' star outfielder Bryce Harper, who was between them in terms of age. With three of the game's best power-hitters coming from the area, Las Vegas is quickly turning into a hotbed of major league talent.
"There's something in the water there, I don’t know," Bryant said about Las Vegas. "You get to play all year long, because the weather’s not too crazy, except for when it gets a little hot. In the winter we get to play, so I think when you're playing baseball all the time and you're always out on the field, you have the chance to maximize your potential. I think that’s why we have been able to be successful."
"We’ve always had great talent [in Las Vegas]," Gallo said. "I’ve always said it. We always competed against California, especially southern California and most of the time beat them, going back to when we were ten or twelve years old. It’s not really a surprise. When people thing of Vegas, they don’t really think of baseball players but we have great talent and should keep producing great guys out there."
With Bryant at Triple-A Iowa and Gallo at Double-A Frisco, the duo rarely speak to each other during the season, though they do hit at the same location in the offseason. Bryant says that he keeps an eye on Gallo's stats, but Gallo tries to stay focused on each game individually.
"It's cool how the friendships in baseball work," Bryant said. "You just want [your friends in the game] to do so good, and he’s definitely one I track just because we are kind of competing in the home run race. He’s a great kid and I have to support my fellow Vegas power hitters."
"I try to just go out and play and then see what happens at the end of the year," Gallo said. "We’re not really competing at all. I think people think I want to get more home runs than him, but if he has more home runs than me, that’s great. I’m really rooting for him, because he’s a great kid and he’s always worked hard."
Gallo's homer helps the U.S. win the Futures Game
The best prospects in Baseball were on display on Sunday with the American prospects edging out the World 3-2.
Bryant and Gallo have taken different paths to this point: Bryant went to college and was a 2013 first-rounder (second overall) out of the University of San Diego. Gallo was also a first-rounder, in 2012, but wasn't drafted until the supplemental phase, going 39th overall. Though younger than Bryant, Gallo was drafted earlier because he opted to bypass college. Bryant, hitting .346/.444/.701 with 31 HR and 81 RBI in 92 games split between Double-A Tennessee and Triple-A Iowa, is praised by scouts and commentators for his approach to hitting and ability to make contact and hit to all fields.
Gallo is a different kind of hitter, one with a big swing that might hurt him as he rises; he has struck out 113 times in 362 at-bats on the year while averaging .307/.434/.703 between High-A Myrtle Beach and Double-A Frisco. Last year he hit 40 home runs in a season mostly spent in the Class-A Sally League, but he averaged just .251 while striking out a troubling 172 times in 411 at-bats. For this reason, Gallo was not a top-ranked prospect until last season. With 93 home runs in just 907 career at-bats, the power is real, but the ability to hit for a sustainable average will always be in question until Gallo settles the issue one way or another.
Despite their differences, both players are expected to make big impacts in the majors for seasons to come. Bryant says that he's not sure when that time will come, and Gallo is even farther away from making it to the show. Nevertheless, it was Gallo who made the bigger impression on Sunday, Bryant went 0-for-3 with a strikeout in the Futures Game, while Gallo broke a windshield in batting practice while hitting 15 home runs, then hit a two-run home run off of the Astros' Michael Feliz in the sixth inning of the actual game. He was named the contest's MVP.
"That’d be pretty crazy, playing against him or Bryce because we all grew up together," Gallo said. "It would be pretty bittersweet, I’m sure our dads would want tons of pictures from that. It would be a pretty cool experience."