Since being drafted in the 12th round of the 2004 draft, Gallagher has won 25 games in the past two years while posting a 2.65 ERA in 350 innings.
But there’s another side to the right-hander, who turns 21 on Saturday.
Both on and off the field, Gallagher isn’t just another Cubs minor league pitching prospect. He still takes orders from his mother, spends his days in the offseason giving sound pitching advice to area youth near his Fort Lauderdale, Fla., home, and even knows a thing or two in the field of massage therapy.
In this rare glimpse into the everyday life of one of the Cubs’ most promising young arms at the minor league level, Gallagher reveals to us a few things previously unknown to both Joe Public and this reporter.
Where does the offseason find you, and what have you been up to since the season ended a few months ago?
Right now, I’m home in Fort Lauderdale. This offseason so far has just been about working out and getting ready for next year. I came home and took some time off just to go fishing and hang out with family and friends to sort of relax and just get back into the swing of things. I think I only took two weeks off. I got really bored with myself and started working out. I started hanging around all the other baseball players from around the area.
My mom told me I either had to go back to school or get a job. I talked to one of the instructors I work out with down here at Memorial Hospital West. They have a big fitness center in the back and I talked to Bruce Aven, who played a few years in the majors and is a hitting instructor here. Well, they didn’t have a pitching instructor and Bruce was telling me last year when I was here that he didn’t have one. He said he always has kids coming in and asking if they can pitch, but that they never do it. So I said, “Well, hey, I’ll do it. I’ll start coming in Monday through Friday.” I work out early in the morning so I said I’d just come and teach pitching lessons all day. For the past two or three months, that’s what I’ve been doing every day.
What kind of lessons and techniques are you sharing with some of the kids you’re working with?
I just teach the basics right now. A lot of the kids I have are 11, 12 or 13 years old and are just now starting to get into pitching, so it’s basically just the routine mechanics like where to step on the rubber, then going through the windup and getting that right. Once they start getting that down is when I really start breaking it down for them in terms of balance and getting their arm in the right spot, then finishing and following through.
Let me get this straight ... you’re almost 21 years old now and at the rate you’re going, you could be making your big league debut some time in the very near future. Yet, you’re still taking orders from your mom about what to do when you’re not pitching.
(laughs) Well, you know when I got drafted, I asked both of my parents if I should go to college or if I should sign. One of my mom’s sticking points that she made with me was that if I signed, I had to go back to school. I’m not really a big school person. I took a couple months of classes for a massage school, but that was about it. I told her, “Not right now. Not at this point in my career.”
My main goal is to get to the big leagues first, establish myself to a point where I can get comfortable and then I’ll go back to school at the point in which I can. I just told her my main goal was to get there first and then I promised I would go back to school and get my Associates Degree so that I’ll have something else to fall back on.
Yeah, two years ago in the offseason, me and one of my buddies were just sitting around one day when some TV show came on. I can’t remember the name of it, but they made a show on people going to massage therapy school. I thought, “You know, that actually doesn’t sound like too bad an idea.” I was thinking that massage therapy was cool and that it’s always something people would enjoy. People are always getting massages, so I thought why not, let’s give it a shot.
For about two or three months, me and my buddy would wake up every day and go to the classes. Around the point where we really started to get hands-on, where it was mandatory that you show up and had to do certain things, we really weren’t that crazily into it. It was a good experience. We got to go there and learned a lot of techniques, a lot of stuff that’s associated with it. We learned a lot about stress release and pressure points. It was a good experience.
How many of your teammates caught wind of all this and were trying to bum massages off of you?
(laughs) This past year, the strength coach at West Tennessee, Mitch Poche, ended up getting a pretty massive knot in his back on the right side. He came into the training room and was asking our trainer, Matt Johnson, for a massage to get it out. Matt was pretty busy at the time and told him to come back in an hour or two. I looked at Mitch and told him I could take care of it. He asked if I was sure and I told Mitch that I’d gotten some training in massage therapy so he said all right. I went to work on him and worked for about 45 minutes. Two days later, it just dispersed and went away. Mitch felt better after that and never had any problems.
Two seasons ago in Peoria, our first baseman, Drew Larsen, had the same type of situation. He came in, his back was tight and it was the same thing with Mitch. He really didn’t have time to get a massage, so I said, “Drew, man, I’ll take care of you if you don’t mind.” He said sure and I worked on him for about 15 or 20 minutes. He got up and said maybe he should start paying me once every couple of days.
So what do you tell the ladies when they find out you’re not only a ballplayer, but a regular masseuse?
Oh, I keep that to myself. I don’t let them know that one. Might steer them in the wrong direction, you know?
Dude, that’s cold! How do you like the role of pitching instructor?
It’s awesome. I think just the fact that a kid comes in and trusts me to work on him and help him through everything is rewarding enough. So far, with all the kids I’ve trained, I have a set schedule with them now. After the first month, I was having to tell them to come back (later). They were asking to set up a schedule to where it was set in stone that every other day or every week at the same time, they would come in.
A lot of the people that I’ve been seeing for the past three months are the same people over and over again, and they keep coming back because I see them getting better every time they come in. They see it, too. I’ve had quite a number of parents come in and say, “Oh my God, you have no idea. After the first two lessons, it was unbelievable,” or you know, “the coaches were so amazed.” Just watching some of these kids, if they continue to develop the way they are right now, I swear they’ll be throwing 95 by the time they’re 19.
Some of these little kids are just unbelievable athletes and the trouble is they just don’t know how to throw, so I take a lot of them in and work on mechanics just so they can throw correctly. From there, that’s when I’ll start teaching them how to pitch.
How fast were you throwing by the time you were a few years older than these kids now?
My freshman and sophomore years in high school, I didn’t throw very hard at all. I was a soft-tossing righty. I had off-speed pitches, but I wasn’t anything that was amazing. We had three or four other guys on my team that were better than me. Finally in my junior year, I don’t know what it was but the summer before, something just clicked. I just went out and started throwing. I had a few guys that were college people tell me during my junior year that I was throwing 87, 88, 89, and 90 every game. I went from there and then I went into the whole summer and played in some showcases and tournaments with my team.
My senior year, I was anywhere from 90 to 95. I remember my last high school baseball game was the regional final that would have advanced us into the state semi-finals against our arch-rival school Nova. The pitcher for them was actually a kid by the name of Anthony Swarzak, who is in the Twins organization now. I’ve played against him the past two years. It was me against him and both of us were pretty pumped up the whole game. He was hitting 92 to 95 while I was throwing 95 to 97. It was just an amazing game. Everyone had the adrenalin flowing and it was unbelievable.
Everyone asked me how I started throwing so hard. I tell everybody the same thing; that I matured very late in my high school career. It just turned out that way.
You’ve seen the radar guns at High-A and at Double-A. Are you still able to hit 95 and 97?
I’m not consistently up there. One of the things when I first signed was that the Cubs and Lester Strode and Rick Tronerud made a lot of adjustments to my mechanics to make it a lot less taxing on my arm. We corrected a lot of stuff. When we first did that, I lost like 5 miles per hour on my velocity so I was scared, but I trusted them and just worked through it.
Toward the end of that summer, all my velocity started to come back. Now the past two years, I’ve been focusing on that. I’ve been consistently 89 to 94 the past two years. If I get a little bit of adrenaline going or want to reach back for a little bit more, I can run it up to 94, 95 or 96.
With the offseason here and you only taking a couple of weeks off, have you resumed throwing yet or is it still too early?
I’ll step on the mound in less than a month. I did my throwing program the first year I got home and when I got through with it, it was already three weeks before Spring Training. I felt as if I was already 100 percent, but coming into Spring Training, they really don’t want us at 100 percent. They want us at 85 to 90 percent so we can still work some of it through. Through my first full season, I started to get a little tired at the end. I think it had a lot to do with me throwing so early.
Last year, I started throwing later in the offseason and it worked out great for me. I was strong all year and had no problems. This year, I actually just started throwing and played my first session of catch. For right now, it’s going to be Monday, Wednesday and Friday and then I’ll start playing catch a little bit every day. Each time, I’ll gradually work more and more distance into it.
Going back to your job this offseason, how did you come to know Bruce Aven?
He always used to come into the gym where he worked out in the offseason. Through my trainer, I was introduced to Bruce and he would come work out for us. I think it was about three years ago that we built the facility in the back just for baseball and he started doing hitting lessons. Last year at some point, I told him we could put a mound in there and start having three or four guys down here that we could have come in and start throwing and playing catch with us.
Just for fun, if you had gone to college, what do you think you would have majored in?
I have no idea. You look at a lot of people who say Business, but I don’t really like that too much. I really wouldn’t have known what to do. I’m sure I would have drifted toward a degree or specialty that I would have enjoyed, but coming out of high school, I had no idea. All I wanted to do was play baseball.