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DJ Gladney: Light-tower power

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Barely 18, the newest White Sox third-sacker has ‘taken to pro ball like a fish to water,’ impressing at every turn

Hand him the MVP keys: White Sox scout J.J. Lally sees Gladney as a future Jermaine Dye.
Kim Contreras/South Side Sox

Day 3 of the baseball draft is not synonymous with harvesting talent strong enough to fill future big league rosters. Roster construction for all 30 major league teams tells us that only approximately 17% of the players currently populating big league dugouts were drafted after the 10th round (i.e., Day 3 picks).

One player hoping to buck those odds is White Sox third base prospect DJ (Damon Junior) Gladney. Gladney was selected in the 16th round out of Illiana Christian Academy (Lansing, Ill.) and signed to an over-slot, $225,000 bonus.

Fans shouldn’t let Gladney’s draft position lead to any preconceived notions about his prospect status, as his signing bonus was the fifth-highest for the entire White Sox 2019 draft class. A product of the White Sox ACE program, Gladney caught the attention of White Sox scout J.J. Lally at the Area Code Games in 2018, telling South Side Sox, “My initial thoughts were that he showed excellent bat speed but was a raw talent.”

Gladney shared that the decision to enter the pro ranks rather than go to college was a relatively easy one, “It wasn’t about the money; playing baseball at the highest level has always been my dream and I was ready to accept the challenge,” he confides in South Side Sox. “We sat down as a family and talked about it, we all agreed, and I was ready to get my professional career underway.”

Last year’s Area Code Games were a key moment in the future marriage of Gladney and the White Sox.
Kim Contreras/South Side Sox

Immediately upon his arrival at the Arizona Rookie League this past June, Gladney began turning heads. Before the calendar turned to his 18th birthday (on July 14), DJ had five home runs and managed to catch the attention of a fellow organizational rookie, first round pick, Andrew Vaughn.

“The hometown kid is killing it down there [in the AZL],” Vaughn tells South Side Sox. “He’s going to be something special. He’s got some special raw power.”

Vaughn knows a thing or two about hitting; he was widely regarded by scouts as being one of the best collegiate hitters in the country. Vaughn’s praise excites the youthful Gladney: “I was shocked; coming out of high school and getting recognized by one of the best pure and power hitters in the nation was pretty cool for me.”

Gladney seems to relish the challenge of being one of the youngest players in the league. “A lot of people may see you as not ready for this level,” he says. “Then when you get out there and just play hard, work hard and prove to them you can do it, it makes you feel good inside and makes you want to keep pushing yourself.”

After experiencing a dramatic three-inch growth spurt in the last year the right-handed Gladney now stands 6´3´´ and weighs 204 pounds. There is athleticism in his blood, as DJ’s father was a college football player and mother ran track collegiately.

Gladney’s card-carrying tool is light-tower power. On the 20-80 scouting scale, Lally grades his prodigy as possessing 60 grade raw power to all fields, 70 to his pull side. The White Sox scout offered that Gladney’s seventh home run was a mammoth shot that left the bat at 109 mph and traveled an estimated 456 feet. You can sense the excitement building in Lally over the youngster: “I’d be lying if I told you we expected this. He’s taken to pro ball like a fish to water. He’s doing what he wants to do, and it’s been an easy transition for him.”

The results are truly astonishing, considering the quantum leap in pitching talent between high school and the Arizona Rookie League. “The biggest difference for me was definitely the pitching and getting used to seeing 90 mph plus and adjusting to it,” he says. Gladney offers that the best pitchers he faced in high school didn’t throw any harder than 85 mph and that he has worked with his coaches taking hundreds of swings against fastball machines to improve his timing and rhythm, while also working on his pitch recognition.

Although Gladney’s current strikeout percentage is a very high (36%), it is palatable when scrutinized in the context of Gladney’s age and inexperience against such advanced pitching.

“Pitch recognition is where he’s going to have to grow,” Lally says. “I have seen him make adjustments; I think it’s in there. You see flashes of that, which lead you to believe he’s going to figure it out. He’s striking out at an alarming rate right now, but he’s making a lot of hard contact. You have to take the bad with the good. I’d like to see DJ help himself by continuing to learn the strike zone, get himself into some deeper counts and battle for some walks.”

Some evidence in Gladney’s growth as a hitter was presented in Monday’s tilt against the AZL Reds, as DJ notched two singles while facing two-strike counts. Gladney takes great pride in honing his craft and says he has been working on hitting breaking balls,

“I have been trying to get a little better recognizing the curveball and being able to stay back and drive it the other way,” he says. “I feel that will be very helpful, and provide more opportunities for fastballs.”

Gladney’s pitch recognition is being honed by taking reps against a curveball machine which the slugger says he uses to recognize the spin; by letting the ball travel deeper into the zone, he hopes to ingrain a natural feeling to bring into game-time situations.

In the field, Gladney’s defense at third base is raw, as evidenced by eight errors in only 19 games. But his throwing arm is strong, and once again, when you take Gladney’s age into consideration there is plenty of room for growth. South Side Sox Arizona correspondent Kim Contreras said when she first saw Gladney in 2018 at the Area Code Games, he was tall and skinny and looked “like he was still trying to gain control of his body after a growth spurt, kind of like a baby giraffe.”

“Baby giraffe” in action at the 2018 Area Code Games.
Kim Contreras/South Side Sox

Although it’s become fashionable in White Sox nation for fans to react to a prospect’s success by clamoring for rapid promotions and a meteoric ascension to the big league club, Lally cautions that fans need to temper their expectations. “This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” he says. “DJ is probably going to be a two-year rookie ball guy. If he moves up one level every year, he will be in the big leagues when he is 23 years old. We just have to be patient with him. He’s a raw talent.”

In Gladney’s first taste of professional baseball he has authored an impressive slash line (.289/.328/.497, with eight HR) and the early returns have White Sox insiders buzzing about his potential. Lally offers that he sees a “little Jermaine Dye” in Gladney, and can envision him filling out his comparable frame in a similar manner. If you are looking for a more recent comp for Gladney, the scout states, “Bryce Bush and DJ are drawing similar comparisons. In the organization, I think there is as much excitement for DJ as there was for Bryce a summer ago.”

DJ Gladney is a name that Sox fans need to be aware of. He represents another homegrown talent for fans to embrace as he works toward his big league dreams.