Name: Alberto Gonzales
The South Bend Silverhawks held the best record in both halves of the Lo-A Midwest League season this year, and eventually won the Midwest League championship series. It was a combination of very good pitching, power, speed, and defense. A lot of defense. At the Midwest League All Star Game there were 11 Silverhawks on the roster, by far the most of any team. Quietly a shortstop named Alberto Gonzales, a defensive gem, was proving his game was far more well rounded than anybody thought.
I personally saw Gonzales take three base hits, and I mean sure, right-off-the-bat-you-knew-it-was-getting-to-the-outfield base hits away in one game. When I talked to the Diamondbacks former Assistant GM Bob Miller about Gonzales during the season he was practically jumping out of his seat.
"Have you seen his numbers?" Miller asked
At the time Gonzales had hit in six of his last seven and had raised his average over .325, so I said, "Yeah, he's really putting good wood on the ball."
"No, not that, he's gone 40 straight games without an error."
It was an amazing stat, particularly for the Lo-A level, where many prospect are just finding out that yes indeed they do have to play defense. And Gonzales did it all year. He missed almost three weeks at the end of April and into May with an injury, but still managed to play in 95 games on the season, at a physically demanding position in a league known for humidity and bugs.
"The poor kid, he has this breakout season," one scout said, "and nobody notices, because Drew signs and then they draft Upton, both at his position. He's the best defensive shortstop in the Diamondbacks system."
Batting and Power: Frankly, defense seemed to be all Gonzales had going for him coming into '05. He hit just .238 in the Midwest League the year before, and is still a beanpole 167 pounds soaking wet, but this season the hands got quicker, and the 10 pounds he put on during the offseason really started to payoff.
Ironically, his light weight helped him hone an approach that naturally sends the ball the other way, and now that he's got the strength to turn on the inside pitch, where Midwest League pitchers owned him in 2004, the Diamondbacks are expecting both the average, and the power (he hit only one home run this season, after a career high of two in '04) to start coming around.
"He's actually got a power hitter's swing," our scout said, "there's a little uppercut to it, and it's a little long. You saw it get more compact as the season wore on, but his body could easily hold another 20 pounds of muscle, and if he ever does build it up, this is a guy who could hit 15 to 20 every year."
Baserunning and Speed: Gonzales has plus speed, but isn't a blazer, and he'll steal a base, but mostly when you're not expecting him to. He's loaded with baseball smarts, and caused more havoc for opposing pitchers than he probably should have.
"He might be the most annoying baserunner in baseball," one Midwest League opponent said, we swear, as a compliment, "because you know he's probably not going to steal, but he gets these huge leads and just sort of invades your head. You start thinking about him and not the hitter and all of a sudden it's 2-0."
On the bases he's conservative, but again baseball savvy.
"He probably drew more unnecessary throws than any guy on that team," David Merchant said, "he would just tear throw second base on a routine single to center and all of a sudden the center fielder is charging hard and loading up and throwing to third on a fly thinking he's going, and he never intended to, but if the throw were to get by, he was right there, watching the play, ready to move up another 90 feet."
Defense: Like fellow South Bend middle infielder Emilio Bonifacio, Gonzales consistently drew praise, not just from Miller, but from scouts, coaches, opponents, fans, anybody within a mile of a diamond he was practicing on.
"Everything looks so easy, so smooth for him," one scout said, "he's got range to both sides, and incredible footwork around second base. He never took a hard slide, because he'd just glide across the bag and be 10 feet away by the time you got there. His arm is tremendous, but even though he could, he wouldn't throw flat footed, he'd set and plant and get the ball there."
Projection: The best defensive shortstop in the organization, sorry Jerry Gil, the question is how long he'll remain there. With Stephen Drew and Sergio Santos already ahead of him, and Justin Upton on the verge of signing, it's a crowded position, and a move to second might make sense. He's certainly got the hands and arm for third base, but he doesn't profile well there because of the lack of power. Still, he could end up being a super sub defensive specialist, and every big league club needs one. If he does put on some more weight and continues to hit at the .300+ clip he debuted this past season, there will be many suitors in the trade market.
ETA: His defense alone could move him up the ladder quickly, particularly if Upton is moved to the outfield, as some suggest he will be. If that's the case he could become the Diamondbacks utility guy as early as '07, but more likely he'll spend a full year at each level and either be traded, or bounce up and down from Triple-A to the Bigs in '08.
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