Announcement: My new book, The 2015 Prospect Digest Handbook, is now available for sale. Click HERE.
Gonzalez was one of – if not the – biggest riser in the Tribe’s farm system in 2014. Entering the season, the Dominican-born shortstop showed very little offensive promise with the bat. Just once did he post an OPS above .747 at any level, and that only happened during a repeat in the Dominican Summer League in 2010. He was, at his best, a league average offensive performer and, at his worst, a well below-average stick.
But something clicked in the 6-foot shortstop last season, as he finished the season with a career best .309/.352/.428 triple-slash line between the Carolina and Eastern Leagues. And, yet, I didn’t name him among Cleveland’s better prospects. Let me explain why…
A lot of Gonzalez’s overall production last season was buoyed by an absurd 25-game stretch in Class AA to close out the year. A .264/.310/.376 hitter before 2014, Gonzalez opened the campaign up by hitting .290/.335/.415. The front office bumped him up to Akron – for the second time after a successful six game stint earlier in the year – in late July and he proceeded to slug a Ted Williams-esque .373/.407/.471.
He basically went from a slightly better than average hitter in High Class A – he posted a 109 wRC+ – to being one of the best bats in the minors, which was largely driven by a laughable .429 BABIP.
Fine. Red flags and sirens are clearly being sounded as the season basically smacked of flukiness.
But Gonzalez’s main Achilles’ heel, his poor plate discipline, remained largely unimproved. His pre-breakout walk rate (2009-2013): 5.5% (81 free passes in 1,466 trips to the plate). His breakout season walk rate (2014): 6.4% (30 BB in 472 PA). It was, at best, a modest uptick in patience.
To put that number in context, there were 23 big league hitters to garner 500+ plate appearances with a walk rate below 6.4% while posting a 100 wRC+. Of those 24, only seven – Dee Gordon, Lorenzo Cain, Jose Altuve, Erick Aybar, Jose Reyes, Daniel Murphy, James Loney – posted an Isolated Power of .119 or less (Gonzalez’s career mark). So the odds are clearly against the Tribe’s young middle infielder.
But let’s look at it in a different way.
Using CAL, the Comparison And Likeness prospect classification system I designed, Gonzalez’s Top 5 comparables (or CALs) prior to his breakout season: Chris Jackson, Juan Silverio, Kirk Singer, Jodaneli Carvajel, and Reggie Williams.
His Top 5 CALs following his breakout: Yadiel Rivera, Jeff Bianchi, Heiker Menses, Zach Walters, and Estarlin De Los Santos.
Outside of Walters – and he’s even a complete unknown – in both cases it’s a largely underwhelming group.
In end, Gonzalez had a nice showing last season and profiles as nothing more than a utility guy.
For more prospect analysis, check out my book , The 2015 Prospect Digest Handbook, HERE.