Adrian Gonzalez the key to Padres deal

When the Padres traded Adam Eaton to Texas with Akinori Otsuka and Billy Killian (a deal that should be finalized soon), they wanted to make sure they received several players back with starting potential. One of those players that will factor heavily into the assessment of the trade years from now is Adrian Gonzalez.

With Ryan Klesko in his walk year – and he will certainly walk after the season ends – Adrian Gonzalez has a chance to become the everyday first basemen for the Padres in 2007.

Compared to Mark Grace when he was drafted first overall in the 2000 draft by the Florida Marlins, Gonzalez was stuck behind superstar Mark Texeria in the Rangers system.

This past year, playing for Triple-A Oklahoma in the Pacific Coast League, Gonzalez batted .338 with 18 homers, 17 doubles and 65 RBI's in 84 games. He also saw action with Texas on the big league club, hitting .227 with seven doubles, six homers and 17 RBI's in 43 games.

The 24 homers were the most he amassed in a single campaign, making some question his power potential.

But Grady Fuson, the Padres' vice president of scouting and player development, doesn't buy the hype.

"The biggest rap on him has been will there be enough power – blah, blah, blah," Fuson said. "He was coming off a wrist injury, which curtailed any kind of snap, strength. His power numbers were slow to come."

It was after the 2002 season that Gonzalez had surgery to repair torn cartilage in his wrist and it resulted in five homers in '03 and 13 dingers in '04 – this after belting 17 in successive seasons in 2001 and 2002.

After all, Gonzalez led the Midwest League in 2001 with 251 total bases.

Thus the 2005 season was more a semblance of his hitting ability in the Padres' eyes. And if anyone should know it is Fuson. Fuson oversaw the Rangers' farm system when Gonzalez was acquired from Florida in July of 2003. He knows the history and is ready to welcome in the fruit.

Gonzalez, 23, is best when he sees the field regularly and has had a tough time adjusting to a bench role in the majors.

The left-handed hitter gets into a rhythm with his swing – often described as being sweet and smooth – and has the ability to find the spacious gaps at PETCO Park and net a lot of doubles despite his sub par speed.

"A gifted hitter," added Fuson. "He uses his hands very well and is getting bigger and stronger.

"He is kind of like a Wally Joyner style."

A Chula Vista native that was drafted out of Eastlake High School, Gonzalez is also seen as a stalwart defender. His .994 fielding percentage last year with Triple-A was fourth best in the Pacific Coast League and he posted a .996 fielding percentage in 123 games in 2004.

"He can really play defense," Fuson confirmed. "Not a big range guy but anything he makes a play on, he will."

And the Padres are hoping to cash in on all the tools Gonzalez brings to the table. A gifted hitter with developing pop that could be a cornerstone of the infield.

A few years from now, the loss of the players dealt to Texas could be forgotten – but it will depend on what Gonzalez does with his chances.

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