A gifted center fielder with well-regarded hitting skills, Carlos Gonzalez has now been involved in two blockbuster trades over the past two off seasons. Originally signed by the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Venezuela in 2002, Gonzalez ranked as the top property in the D-Backs’ system before he became a prominent piece of the Dan Haren trade. After only one year with Oakland, the lefty-hitter will now pack his bags and head to the friendly environs of Coors Field, as the principal player for the Rockies in the Matt Holliday deal. Let’s take a look back at Gonzalez’s minor league career to help project what sort of player he may develop into over the next few years.
Gonzalez started his professional career in 2003, for Missoula of the Rookie-Level Pioneer League. The then-17 year old held his own, batting .258/.308/.404 in 275 AB. In a sign of things to come, Gonzalez displayed pretty good pop for his age (.146 ISO), but also rather raw control of the strike zone (5.8 BB%, 22.2K%)
In 2004, the 6-1,180 pounder would spend the majority of his season with Yakima of the Low-A Northwest League. In 300 AB for the club, he posted a .273/.327/.427 line, with 9 HR. Gonzalez drew a few more walks (7.3BB%), while swinging and missing a slightly higher percentage of the time (23.3K%). In a late-season promotion to South Bend of the Low-A Midwest League, Gonzalez hacked his way to a .275/.288/.412 line, drawing only one walk in 51 AB.
Gonzalez would return to the Midwest League in 2005, spending the entire campaign at South Bend. As a 19 year-old, Gonzalez broke out, batting an impressive .307/.371/.489 and popping 18 home runs in 515 AB. His walk rate climbed to a decent 9.3% and he cut his K rate to 16.7%. Also, his ISO climbed from the .150-ish range in ’03 and ’04 to .182. Following this stellar season, Baseball America ranked Gonzalez as the 32nd-best prospect in the game.
In 2006, Gonzalez would be promoted to the hitter-happy environment of the High-A California League, spending the majority of the season at Lancaster (home of 40 MPH jet streams). To say that Lancaster increases offensive production is sort of like saying the United States has some slight debt issues at the moment. Per Baseball Prospectus 2008, Clear Channel Stadium boosted batting levels about 11% between 2005-2007. For the aptly-named Jet Hawks, Gonzalez compiled a .300/.349/.563 line, belting 21 long balls in 403 AB. While that comes out to a .263 ISO, one has to keep in mind his home ballpark. Gonzalez’s control of the strike zone actually seemed to take a step back, as he walked 6.9% and whiffed 25.8%. Late in the season, Gonzalez would be promoted to AA Tennessee of the Southern League, where he batted .213/.294/.410 in 61 AB.
2007 would see Gonzalez return to AA, this time with new D-Backs affiliate Mobile. In 458 AB, the 21 year-old hit .286/.333/.476. In a more neutral hitting environment, Gonzalez posted a solid .190 ISO, though he continued to employ an aggressive approach that saw him draw a free pass just 6.5% of the time. His K rate declined slightly, to 22.5%. In 42 late-season AB with AAA Tucson, he hit .310/.396/.500. After his solid AA campaign, BA would rank bump Gonzalez up to the 22nd-ranked prospect in the minors.
Following the ’07 season, Gonzalez was shipped to Oakland along with a cadre of other prospects (Dana Eveland, Greg Smith, Aaron Cunningham, Brett Anderson and Chris Carter) in exchange for Haren and Connor Robertson. Gonzalez would open the season with AAA Sacramento of the Pacific Coast League, hitting a mild .283/.344/.416 in 173 AB. Called up to Oakland in late May, Gonzalez had a rough go of it in his first taste of the majors. As a player with unrefined control of the strike zone, the Venezuelan unsurprisingly struggled. Gonzalez posted a .242/.273/.361 line in 302 AB, with an ugly 4.1BB% and a lofty strikeout rate (26.8%). He didn’t show a whole lot of restraint, swinging at 32.5% of pitches thrown outside of the strike zone, and his contact rate was rather low at 74.11%.
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.