Prospect profile: Luis Gonzalez

The White Sox farm system is currently ripe with top prospects, and much of that organizational strength is the product of exceptional outfield and pitching talent.  For that reason, Luis Gonzalez often falls victim to a numbers crunch when he is ranked on organizational top-prospect lists.  While there are others in the system with tools that scream, Gonzalez doesn’t have that one eye-popping tool. Instead, he has to settle… settle for just being really damn good at everything that can be done on a baseball field.

Drafted from the University of New Mexico in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft, Gonzalez was signed to an under slot 517K bonus (slot value was 635.5K). After signing he had a very short stint in Great Falls (4 games) before playing 63 games and finishing the season in Kannapolis.  His 2017 stat line in Kannapolis was underwhelming as he hit .245 with 2 HR in 233 AB.  When I spoke with Gonzalez about this, he conveyed that he felt pressure to perform and wanted to justify his draft position right out of the box.  He felt that he may have been pressing during his first two months at Kannapolis in which he hit a brutal .193 over his first 135 at bats. However, a closer look will reveal he still managed a .317 OBP and worked 26 BB during these 164 plate appearances.  He flourished in August hitting .314. with a .397 OBP and .873 OPS.  He was exhausted after his whirlwind college season and professional indoctrination and went 0-10 in his final three games with five strikeouts.       

Before the 2018 season Gonzalez had set seemingly lofty personal goals.  However, the pressure to reach these goals never fazed him as he started the season with his foot on the proverbial pedal and never let up. He really caught my attention in the season’s third game when he was facing a very tough right-handed starter, Phillies 2017 2nd round draft pick, Spencer Howard.  Gonzalez worked a long at bat before mauling a fastball for a home run to the power alley on his pull side.  It was a frequent theme for Gonzalez to put together long, pesky at bats against opposing pitchers.  This approach helped him fashion a .300 AVG .358 OBP and .850 OPS at Kannapolis before earning a selection as a SAL all-star and a promotion to the Hi-A Winston-Salem Dash.  Gonzalez responded impressively to his promo by slashing his way to a .313 AVG .376 OBP and .880 OPS while decreasing his strikeout rate against more advanced pitching.  Despite playing in only 62 games, he narrowly missed leading the team in doubles with 24 (Gavin Sheets led the Dash with 28 in 119 games).  A very encouraging sign is the way Gonzalez absolutely abuses same-sided pitchers.  In 114 at bats he tattooed left-handed pitchers to the tune of a .360 AVG .419 OBP and .989 OPS.

Listed at 6’ 1” and 185 lbs., Gonzalez hits from the left-hand side with an open stance.  His pre-swing routine is fairly quiet with just enough movement to keep him loose in the box.  Although his open setup might suggest a pull heavy approach, he has no trouble covering the outer half of the plate or hitting to all fields. White Sox scout John Kazanas who was responsible for Gonzalez signing identified that Luis has a characteristic that is often absent in young hitters as “He’s able to make a correction in his approach during an at bat.” Kazanas offered that while other young hitters may have a pull heavy approach and mash baseballs from middle-in, they can be made to look foolish when a pitcher makes an adjustment and throws them a cutter, whereas Gonzalez “won’t get mismatched and he’s going to find a way to get one good swing on a pitch during an at bat.” Kazanas said that he recognized Gonzalez talent when he was a prep player at Catalina Foothills HS in Tucson, Arizona.  At that time Luis was often being overlooked due to the presence of another local star, current Los Angeles Dodger outfielder, Alex Verdugo.  Kazanas offered, “Luis was kind of the step-child to Alex Verdugo, they were both from the same region, played the same position and pitched, both left-handers.”  Kazanas continued by suggesting that Luis may end up a better player than Verdugo in the long run and he believes Gonzalez may bring more power as well.  “Those doubles (Gonzalez led the entire organization with 40) are going to turn into homers one day.”  When I asked what impressed him the most about Gonzalez, Kazanas offered “He was like a fly in a jar, he had great energy, he would sprint to and from his position, his opponents probably saw him as a pest, he took it upon himself to be a leader and make an impact on and off the field.” Gonzalez signing is a great example of the White Sox organizational strategy to draft high-character players. The scouting and player development staff believe that a player’s makeup is just as important as his athletic ability and they are striving to acquire players that satisfy this whole package.  This winning attitude has really shined throughout the organization and should continue to serve the rebuild effort well.

In the field Gonzalez has shown incredible fast twitch reflexes on defense and he rarely wastes any movement or time in tracking down fly balls. Reflecting on an early season game in Kannapolis (against Delmarva), an opposing hitter hammered a gapper that everyone in the park assumed was going to fall in and end up a double or triple.  Yet somehow, Gonzalez took off upon the crack of the bat and made an unbelievable over-the-shoulder, warning track grab, that can best be described as “Willie Mays-like.”  These sensational defensive plays became the norm during Luis tenure in centerfield.  

Gonzalez was a two-way player in both high school and college and possesses a plus throwing arm as a result.  When you watch the infielders and outfielders playing catch during pre-game warm ups it is very easy to recognize Gonzalez, as he displays the arm strength of a pitcher.  Kazanas offered that Luis was being clocked at 92-93 mph when he was on the mound in high school. The pitching background also serves him well as a hitter as he is able to understand the way pitchers try to set him up and strategize against him during his at bats.  

According to Kazanas he would like to see Gonzalez improve both his base stealing and bunting abilities.  Thus far in his minor league career, Gonzalez has been caught in 10 of his 22 stolen base attempts.  Kazanas feels that by enhancing his bunting ability, Gonzalez would have an extra weapon against tough pitchers. Kazanas stated, “On any given day, there are going to be pitchers that you just can’t see well, but if you can lay down a good bunt you might get a hit and go 1-4, instead of 0-4, then you have something to build on the next day.”  He went on to extol the virtues of quality bunting by explaining that if you can bunt, you can keep the defense honest and they might have to cheat a little bit and give you an extra three to five feet.  This extra real estate can afford the hitter the chance to bloop one in or squeeze one through the infield, an opportunity that wouldn’t have existed if you couldn’t bunt.  He continued by explaining that mathematically these two skills looked at in unison can make the difference between a .250 hitter who’s looking for a job and a .290 hitter who’s signing a free-agent contract worth millions.

White Sox fans have a lot to be excited about in the future and Gonzalez is one of the many players we have to look forward to on the south side of Chicago. Scouts have compared him favorably to (AZ Diamondbacks) David Peralta, and (ATL Braves) Ender Inciarte. Along with plus tools across the board, he has received praise for both his character and work ethic.  Kazanas closed our interview stating, “He’s very determined, he’s not going to cheat you out of one at bat, one inning, he’s going to find a way to impact the game in one way, whether it be with his glove, his arm, his legs, or his bat and he’s a very caring young man; he cares about others.”  

Although he may not get the publicity of some of his organizational teammates, Gonzalez is humble and takes it all in stride.  He sums it up by stating, “It’s been good to be overlooked at times, it makes me hungrier to prove people otherwise.”  In 2019, the southern league should be very afraid of a hungry Luis Gonzalez.