03/25/11 10:45 PM ET
Gallagher making most of big league exposure
By Scott Merkin / MLB.com
It's a story having nothing to do with the distance of Adam Dunn's home runs or the speed of Jake Peavy's amazing recovery from last July's season-ending surgery.
Instead, this newest White Sox character sports No. 87 on the back of his jersey with nothing else for identification.
People scrambling online to match a name to the rather high digits need look no further. Jim Gallagher did not receive an invite to White Sox camp, not even a non-roster call for the left-handed-hitting first baseman/outfielder, so he won't be listed.
Gallagher still has played in 13 Cactus League games entering Friday night's contest against the D-backs at Camelback Ranch, as many as starting catcher A.J. Pierzynski and utility infielder Omar Vizquel, and four fewer than incumbent first baseman and captain Paul Konerko. Gallagher usually is called upon late in the contest, with the game on the line, hoping to deliver a big hit to lift his average above .500, where it stood entering the final five games to be played in Arizona.
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Having a little fun with the borderline cult status taken on by his frequently seen No. 87 can't mask the impact Gallagher has made during the past month. It's not the sort of impact where White Sox fans should look for Gallagher at the Major League level in 2011 or '12, for that matter.
But the 25-year-old converted outfielder, who has been called up to big league games because of his defensive capabilities at first base, also has proven he can produce offensively. That fact should come as little surprise, with Gallagher having posted a .286 career average over four years' worth of Minor League stops at Great Falls, Class A Kannapolis, Class A Winston-Salem and Double-A Birmingham.
"Every day is an opportunity to showcase yourself and just show that you belong up there," said the well-spoken and affable Gallagher, who played two years collegiately at Duke before being taken in the seventh round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft. "Fortunately, I've done some things this spring that have stood out a little bit."
"He has been a pleasant surprise for all of us, but he also has been on our radar screen for a long time," said White Sox Minor League field coordinator Nick Capra of Gallagher. "We knew he had the ability to do a lot of different things."
Last spring's two-day trip to play the Cubs in Las Vegas marked the first time Gallagher earned the Spring Training callup. He finished with 17 at-bats and played in seven games in Spring Training 2010, and then hit .294 with 10 home runs, 35 doubles, 53 RBIs and a .392 on-base percentage for Birmingham.
His 2011 workload has increased, but with split-squad action and veterans playing limited innings in numerous contests, it's not uncommon for Minor Leaguers to get Cactus League callups. That concept holds especially true under the regime of manager Ozzie Guillen, who made a vow after his first season to get to know the players he had available at the lower levels in case they were needed during the regular season.
Fellow Minor Leaguers such as Jose Martinez, Greg Paiml, Drew Garcia, Ken Williams Jr. and Trayce Thompson dot the team's statistics report. Gallager, though, has received the most consistent playing time.
During his time spent in the White Sox dugout, it's not like Gallagher has sat down daily with Konerko, Adam Dunn or Pierzynski and had long talks about what it takes to succeed at the next level. They have work to do to get ready for the grueling 162-game ledger and hopefully then some.
So, Gallagher acts as a sponge, taking in all he can concerning the big league experience.
"I'm trying to be a fly on the wall, listening to what I can," Gallagher said. "Then, when it's my time, I just get in there and do my thing.
"Every time I get the opportunity, I'm super excited about it and the thrill definitely doesn't wear off. But definitely the more I've been a part of it, I mean it makes it easier to kind of relax and go about your business."
Sometimes Gallagher gets the callup word from Capra, who usually is told by White Sox bench coach Joey Cora, the day before a game. Other times, Gallagher finds out that same morning.
"If it's the morning of, when I hear it, I'm not freaking out or anything," Gallagher said. "It's not like that. I'm calm about it. I just look at it as another opportunity."
As excited as Gallagher has been to receive this opportunity, he's equally thrilled to have his swing in such solid working order mechanics-wise. His six hits in 12 Cactus League at-bats, including one triple, as well as six runs scored and four RBIs support Gallagher's new-found comfort zone.
Spring Training 2012 could bring an official invite of the non-roster variety for Gallagher, although he certainly isn't complaining about his somewhat unique present chances. It's just that No. 87 might have to give up his legendary number once he's really in camp.
"I'll take any number they will give me if I make it up there," said a smiling Gallagher, who wears jersey No. 10 during the season. "I'd be lying if I didn't think to myself, 'Man it would be nice to be up there.'
"When it comes to being a part of the big league team, I'll take whatever I can get. To be this close and feel like you have an opportunity to play at the highest level, I can't think of anything better."