H/W: 6'1''/ 170 LB
|Gonzalez has been a Futures Game participant. b>|
Gonzalez made his debut in the United States in 2003 as a 17 year old. He put up fairly non-descript numbers that season (712 OPS in 275 at-bats) in Rookie Ball. Gonzalez was sent to short-season Yakima in 2004, where he hit .273 with a 754 OPS in 300 at-bats in the Northwest League. He appeared in 14 games with Low-A South Bend in the Midwest League that season, batting .275 in 14 games.
It was with South Bend that Gonzalez burst onto the prospect scene in 2005. He won the Midwest League MVP that season by hitting .307 with a .371 OBP and an 860 OPS. Gonzalez had 18 homers and 92 RBIs for South Bend that year.
He bettered those numbers in 2006 in the hitter-friendly California League, hitting 21 homers, driving in 93 runs and posting a 917 OPS in only 104 games for the Lancaster JetHawks as a 20 year old. Gonzalez earned his first taste of Double-A at the end of that season, but he struggled, batting .213 with two homers in 18 games for Double-A Tennessee.
The excitement surrounding Gonzalez grew during the winter of 2006, when he starred for his hometown Aguilas del Zuila, batting .318 with a 923 OPS during the Venezuelan Winter League. He followed that performance with a big spring for the Diamondbacks during major league camp, hitting .429 in 21 at-bats before the 2007 season.
Despite the momentum of his strong winter and spring performances, Gonzalez got off to a slow start with Double-A Mobile to start the 2007 campaign. He hit only .210 with an anemic 596 OPS during the month of April. Gonzalez began to pick up his level of play in May, when he hit .286 with a 719 OPS, and in June, when he hit .255 with an 801 OPS and five homers.
It was Gonzalez's last two months in Double-A that made his season, however. All of his offensive prowess came to the forefront in July and August. He hit .344 with a 1032 OPS and six homers in July, and he hit .338 with an 889 OPS in August. Gonzalez finished his time with Double-A Mobile with a .286 average, 16 homers and an 806 OPS in 458 at-bats.
The Diamondbacks sent Gonzalez to Triple-A for the final two weeks of the season. He fared well in his first taste of the top level in the minor leagues, batting .310 with a homer and 11 RBI in only 10 games. In total for the season, Gonzalez hit .288 with an 814 OPS in 130 games.
|Gonzalez has a smooth opposite field stroke. b>|
As a hitter, Gonzalez has a smooth left-handed swing. When he is swinging well, he has a natural inside-out swing that is powerful enough to hit balls out to left-field. When he is slumping, he has a tendency to try to jerk everything to right. Gonzalez struggled against left-handed pitchers in 2007, although he handled them well in 2006. He hit only .213 with a 578 OPS against lefties at Double-A last season versus .326 with a 927 OPS versus righties.
His approach at the plate has been questioned at times by scouts. He is still very young in terms of his maturity as a ballplayer, and that shows at times at the plate. Gonzalez has a tendency to give at-bats away on occasion, especially when he is frustrated. He also doesn't employ the A's traditional patient style of hitting, and he has walked only 162 times versus 455 strike outs in 2106 career minor league at-bats.
Gonzalez is a quick learner, however, and he has shown the ability to improve his approach with a little bit of coaching. One scout told OaklandClubhouse.com's sister site FutureBacks.com:
"You would literally see the change happen over night. He would ground out to second three times and the coaches would talk to him about using the whole field, and then next night he'd go three for four with two doubles the other way," the scout said.
Defensively, Gonzalez has been a corner outfielder for much of his career, but he spent time in center in 2007 and he has the speed to handle the position. His arm is well above-average and he isn't afraid to air it out to nail runners at third or home from his natural right-field position. Gonzalez was learning how to use his arm when playing centerfield this season, but it could be a weapon along the lines of Mark Kotsay's arm in center when he gets used to that position. He is only average at reading the ball off of the bat both in right and in center, but he should improve in both positions as he gains more experience.
As a base-runner, Gonzalez has good speed, but he isn't a natural base stealer. He isn't great at reading pitchers' pick-off moves and he isn't an aggressive runner. That being said, with more polish, Gonzalez has the speed to be a 15-20 base stealer if he has the opportunities to run.
There is little question that Gonzalez is a future major leaguer. Whether he becomes a star or not will have a lot do with his development mentally. Gonzalez needs to develop a more consistent approach to every game and every at-bat. He will be 22 throughout the 2008 season, and he should be surrounded by veteran players at Triple-A Sacramento. Last season, A's top prospect Daric Barton benefited greatly from playing with the veterans at Sacramento. A number of those 2007 River Cats are likely to return in 2008 and they could have a similar effect on Gonzalez.
In a lot of ways, Gonzalez is very similar to A's prospect and fellow Venezuelan Javier Herrera, but Gonzalez is bigger, has more power, less speed and no injury questions. Like Herrera, Gonzalez has been known to rely at times on his immense talents rather than on game preparation. Both could be in Triple-A Sacramento next season in the same outfield, sharing time in right and center field.
Although Gonzalez might be ready for the major leagues as soon as mid-season next year, Oakland is likely to leave Gonzalez in the minors until at least September, as the A's will be careful not to start his free agency clock before 2009.