Name: Nate Gold
Position: First Base
DOB: June 12, 1980
Nate Gold, 27, is one of the most tenured players in the Rangers minor league system. The first baseman was drafted in the 10th round of the 2002 MLB Draft after he hit 33 home runs in 56 games for the Gonzaga University Bulldogs.
Gold split his professional debut between rookie-level Pulaski and Single-A Savannah. The Rangers' Low-A club moved to Clinton, Iowa, in 2003, and that's where Gold spent his sophomore season. Though he batted just .268 for the L-Kings, he began to show signs of his power, as he hit 35 doubles and 12 home runs in 369 at-bats.
At 24 years of age, Gold made the jump to the High-A level, where he played with then-Ranger affiliate Stockton. Gold did manage to hit 32 doubles and 20 home runs with the Ports, but his .242 average and 140 strikeouts kept him in High-A for another year.
The Bakersfield Blaze became the Rangers' High-A affiliate in 2005, and that's where the Utah native would play the majority of his season. Now 25-years-old, Gold was certainly not young for the league. While Gold's power numbers did improve – as he belted 21 home runs in 381 at-bats – it was his improvement elsewhere that was encouraging. Not only did Gold improve his batting average to .281, but he reduced his strikeout rate to once every 5.9 at-bats (from 3.6 in 2004). The progress earned him a late-season promotion to Double-A Frisco, where he struggled through 79 at-bats.
But Gold certainly didn't struggle in his first full season with the RoughRiders. Largely unknown to Rangers fans at the time, Gold made a name for himself while playing his home games in the Metroplex in 2006. The Gonzaga product played in 120 games and batted .292 with 34 home runs and 103 RBIs. The performance earned the 6-foot-3, 230-pound prospect the Tom Grieve Minor League Player of the Year award for the Rangers organization.
Curious to see if there would be an encore, many looked forward to Gold's jump to the Triple-A level last summer. There wasn't much to be excited about at first, as Gold hit only .244 (31-of-127) with 38 strikeouts in the season's first two months. Rangers minor league hitting coordinator Mike Boulanger says Gold wasn't tailoring his approach to accommodate his swing.
"Earlier in the year – probably the first half," said Boulanger, "personally I couldn't recommend him to go up to the big leagues because he had the outer part of the plate – especially the slider – he was too easy to pitch to. There was just too much of the outer third he couldn't cover because he was working off the ball with his front hip and his front shoulder.
"To make it even simpler, there are some times that he would have been way better off just taking that pitch because his swing is not geared to handle that."
Gold made drastic improvements the rest of the way, batting .304 with 21 home runs in June, July, and August. That stretch included a particularly impressive month, where the slugger hit 12 home runs in 119 at-bats in August. Boulanger believes Gold was able to make the necessary adjustments to his approach.
"I think he got better in the second half, in my opinion, of laying off [the outside] pitch," explained Boulanger. "He got better at recognizing a slider early out of the hand by staying square and he did a much better job of strike zone management. It may not show up in the walks necessarily, but it put him in hitter's counts way more than he was earlier."
Though he has never stepped on a major league field, Gold – at 27 years of age – is older than about half of the Rangers' current roster. However, Boulanger believes Gold has the ability to play in the big leagues.
"In my opinion – this is just me speaking now," said Boulanger, "he'll play in the big leagues for somebody."
Batting and Power: Perhaps the biggest factor in Nate Gold's monster second-half last season was a simple adjustment made to his approach. Gold always had difficulty covering the outer portion of the plate, but that didn't keep him from chasing pitches on the outer half. Beginning in late-July last season, the Utah native did a better job of laying off away and waiting for his pitch. The hole may keep him from being an everyday player in the majors, but there is little doubt that Gold can hit. Aside from being one of the best fastball hitters in the system, he is one of the most powerful – as evidenced by his 60 home runs over the last two seasons.
Base Running and Speed: With 16 steals – and only 26 attempts – over six professional seasons, it's safe to say Gold isn't a huge threat on the basepaths.
Defense: Gold often gets a bad rap for his defensive abilities, but that criticism is somewhat unwarranted. Although he won't win any Gold Gloves, he won't be the worst defender either. Gold's biggest issue is his range, which is somewhat limited. He would best be described as a slightly-below-average defender at first base.
Projection: As previously mentioned, Gold's shortcomings both at the plate and in the field may keep him from being an everyday player at the next level. But because of his powerful bat, it's difficult to count him out as at least an extra bat on the bench that can provide some pop. It could be a role that Gold fulfills as early as next season.
2008 Outlook: Gold mastered the Double-A level two seasons ago and did the same in the Triple-A's Pacific Coast League last year. With little to prove in the minor leagues, Gold has to hope for a big league opportunity, which should come in 2008. The first baseman recently received a non-roster invitation to big league camp. Though Gold figures to begin the season with Triple-A Oklahoma, he should get a look at some point due to the Rangers' shaky situation at first base.