Smith (sidelined for most of the 2009 season with shoulder problems) was more of a throw-in, a back-of-the-rotation option whose peripherals were uninspiring. Street was certainly a stalwart in the ‘pen this year, with a 2.93 FIP. But the big prize in the deal was Gonzalez. Ultimately, the lefty-hitting Venezuelan would determine whether the deal worked out in Colorado’s favor.
Shortly after the swap, I took a gander at CarGo’s minor league track record and early scuffles in Oakland. The former D-Backs prospect possessed the power-speed combo to be a major component in two blockbuster deals (he was also involved in the December 2007 Dan Haren deal). Yet, he rarely worked the count, and he did benefit from cozy hitting environs in Arizona’s farm system. I came to the following conclusion:
“Gonzalez is headed to the best offensive environment in baseball, but it would be best to take a wait-and-see approach with the 23 year-old. While he has shown a solid amount of power in the minors, he has also posted low walk rates and relatively high strikeout totals. Gonzalez is essentially a lottery ticket for the Rockies and for fantasy owners: if his plate discipline improves to an acceptable level, he could be a star-caliber performer. If not, he might just be a Juan Encarnacion-type with more defensive value.”
One year later, Gonzalez appears to have taken steps toward becoming that championship-caliber player. The obvious caveat here is Coors Field. Humidor or not, the park inflates offense like no other venue in the majors. But even accounting for the Rocky Mountain assist, Gonzalez posted +9.8 Batting Runs in 2009, despite not getting a call-up until June and not really getting everyday AB’s until late in the year.
Opening the season at AAA Colorado Springs, Gonzalez punished the Pacific Coast League for a .339/.418/.630 line in 223 PA. Colorado Springs is also a hitter’s paradise, but Gonzalez beat the seams off the ball for a .292 ISO. Perhaps more importantly, he displayed a more reserved approach at the plate. Gonzalez drew a walk in 10.3% of his PA, while punching out 16.7%.
In Colorado, CarGo did a decent job of mending his hack-tastic ways. Gonzalez walked 9.2 percent of the time, increasing his P/PA seen from 3.4 in 2008 to 3.7 in 2009.
The 24 year-old didn’t suddenly morph into some Helton-like Zen master of plate discipline, but he made progress. Gonzalez jumped at 32.5 percent of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone with the A’s in ’08, but lowered that mark to 30.6 percent with the Rockies (25.1% MLB average).
His first-pitch strike percentage (the rate at which the batter puts the ball in play on the first pitch or gets behind in the count 0-and-1) fell from 60.8% in 2008 to 58% this past year, right around the big league average. When Carlos took a cut at a pitch within the zone, he connected more often. His Z-Contact% rose from 86.7% with the A’s to 89.7% with the Rockies (87.8% MLB average).
With better strike-zone judgment and the best hitting environment in baseball at his disposal, Gonzalez batted .284/.353/.525 in 317 PA, with a .241 ISO. Happily, CarGo also added 16 steals in 20 attempts. The base thievery wasn’t really expected, given his poor 65% success rate in the minors.
It’s too early to say that Gonzalez is on the path to stardom, but he made strides toward becoming a more complete player in 2009. We knew that he could sting the baseball, but it was imperative that he lay off more junk pitches off the plate. He started to do that this year. With a vastly improved bat and stellar defense (+8 UZR/150), Gonzalez was worth 2.3 Wins Above Replacement in part-time duty. In parting with one organizational building block, the Rockies may have acquired another.
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