Gonzalez Striving To Be The Best

Being traded can be a shock to the system for any player, especially a top prospect who had been talked about as part of the future of his original organization. It can also be difficult for a player asked by his new organization to make changes to his game or learn a new position. Carlos Gonzalez has been asked to do both with the Oakland A's and he has tackled those challenges with enthusiasm.

Over the past three years, Carlos Gonzalez has been one of the top outfield prospects in baseball. Signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2002 out of Venezuela, Gonzalez first made waves in the prospect world when he won the Midwest League MVP in 2005 by posting an 860 OPS. His stock continued to rise in 2006 when he had a 917 OPS in the California League. In 2007, Gonzalez got off to a slow start at Double-A, but a strong second half plus a brief, but successful stint at Triple-A brought Gonzalez's OPS up to 814 by the end of the season.

Gonzalez has hit three homeruns already this season in 18 games.
It was numbers like those, plus scouting reports that pegged Gonzalez as a true five-tool talent, that made the Oakland A's zero in on Gonzalez when they engaged the Diamondbacks in trade talks this off-season. Gonzalez wound-up as the centerpiece of the package that Oakland received from Arizona in exchange for the American League's 2007 All-Star Game starter Dan Haren and reliever Connor Robertson.

After the trade, there were high expectations for Gonzalez when he arrived at the A's major league spring training camp this February. He didn't disappoint. Gonzalez was in the line-up for the A's nearly everyday early in camp and he showed a smooth and powerful line-drive swing, a strong arm in the outfield and quick feet on the base-paths. Gonzalez was so impressive this spring that he nearly won a spot on the A's Opening Day roster before being one of the final cuts.

"This was my second time in a big league camp and that is really helpful for a player because you get so much more experience being around all of the big league players and facing all of the big league pitchers all of the time. They gave me a lot of opportunities [to play this spring], and I really appreciated it. I think that experience is going to make me a better player," Gonzalez said.

One of the reasons that Gonzalez didn't break camp with Oakland is that the A's would like to see him improve his plate discipline, an area of particular emphasis in the Oakland organization. Gonzalez only walked 38 times in 130 games last season while in the Arizona chain. The five-tool outfielder has already shown improvement in that area this year. In 18 regular season games with Triple-A Sacramento, Gonzalez has walked eight times and he sports a .410 OBP to go along with his .343 BA.

Gonzalez has bought into the A's style of play already.

Gonzalez had a strong spring with Oakland.
"It's a lot different [than Arizona], but I really like it here. I think the A's are a great organization," Gonzalez said.

"They have different plans for their players [than Arizona]. You have to make adjustments, but I think those will make me a better player, so I feel really good about the organization."

In addition to being asked to improve his plate discipline, Gonzalez has been working on a new position while with the River Cats. A right-fielder for most of his minor league career, Gonzalez has been shifted to centerfield by Oakland. Although he is still learning the nuances of being in the center of the outfield, Gonzalez has already opened some eyes with some spectacular fielding plays and strong throws to nab runners on base.

"I am getting more comfortable [in center]. I really like it. I have been playing right-field for most of my career, and [center] is not so different from that," Gonzalez said. "You've got more room to cover, but I think it is a really nice position to cover because the centerfielder moves all of the outfielders around so all of the responsibilities are on you."

Gonzalez was a Futures Game selection in 2006 and 2007.
Gonzalez's considerable talents have already made an early impression on his manager in Sacramento, Todd Steverson.

"Carlos is a very exciting player. He's the type of player that, as a manager, I like to put into the line-up every single day because I am a baseball fan myself and I like to watch great players play baseball," Steverson said.

"It is exciting to watch him go up there and hit. It's exciting to watch all of my players go up there and hit, but he has some special tools. He has a pair of wrists that not everybody has. They are pretty special. He's also got a great arm in the outfield and he plays the game at a nice, easy pace."

According to Steverson, the only thing standing between Gonzalez and reaching his full potential is polishing his immense skills.

"The sky can be the limit for him based on how he develops his mental approach to the game. If he keeps his head right in terms of understanding that the game is humbling and that he needs to work at it all of the time, he should find success anywhere," Steverson said.

"He is working really hard everyday, and he needs to continue to do that. When you are that talented, it is easy to slip back."

Gonzalez has had the opportunity to see what type of player he can become over the past few off-seasons when he has competed in the Venezuelan Winter League against some of his home country's brightest stars. In the winter of 2006-2007, Gonzalez hit .318 and was among the VWL league leaders in homeruns for his hometown Zulia, an effort that earned him Baseball America's Winter Player of the Year award.

Gonzalez has been hard at work in the cage.
"I think it is a really good thing to have played against guys like Miguel Cabrera, Bobby Abreu, Omar Vizquel, all of the stars. It really motivates me to continue to play hard because that will show you one thing: that you can be the next Miguel Cabrera or Bobby Abreu," Gonzalez said.

"I try to excel at everything. I want to get better at running, fielding and hitting. I think fans come to the games because they want to watch great players and God gave me some really good tools and I just want to work hard to get the most out of them."

That hard work has paid off for Gonzalez so far during his brief time with the River Cats. Gonzalez has gotten off to a good start with Triple-A Sacramento. In 18 games, he has a 925 OPS with three homers, 10 RBIs and 11 runs scored.

The only thing that has been holding Gonzalez down at Triple-A thus far this season has been health. A strained hamstring cost Gonzalez about a week at the end of spring training and prevented him from being included on the A's Japan roster. Since the season started, Gonzalez has missed five games with a bruised hand and he is currently on the DL with a sprained ankle. The hand and hamstring are fine now and the ankle is nearly 100 percent. Gonzalez expects to be ready when he is eligible to be activated during the River Cats current road-trip.

"[The ankle] feels so much better. I ran the bases [on Sunday] and my ankle feels great. I'm going to have to wait for my DL days to be up, but then I'll be ready to go," Gonzalez said.

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