Career Profile: Alex Gonzalez
Ten years ago, when discussing shortstop Alex Gonzalez, it was necessary to clarify which Alex Gonzalez you were talking about. I want to do Career Profiles on both of them, so we'll start with the Alex Gonzalez who is still playing today for the Atlanta Braves.
Alexander Gonzalez was signed by the Florida Marlins as a free agent in 1994, from Venezuela. He was considered a strong defensive shortstop with a chance to hit for some power. He made his North American debut in 1995, hitting .294/.358/.406 in 53 games for the Gulf Coast League Marlins, which got him a promotion to the Florida State League in August, where he hit .203/.230/.271 in 17 games. He was overmatched there, but it was no surprise considering he was just 18. He was named the Number Three prospect in the GCL by Baseball America. I'd probably give a similar player nowadays a strong Grade C+ or a B-.
Gonzalez suffered a shoulder injury in 1996 and was limited to just 25 games split between rookie ball, Low-A, and Double-A, hitting .227 with zero power and poor plate discipline at the two higher levels combined. He was still toolsy, but it remained to be seen if the injury would have a long-term impact. I would have kept his grade about the same, probably a "Grade C+, higher potential, need to see how health turns out."
After a strong spring training proved he was fully healthy, Gonzalez was sent to Double-A Portland for 1997, hitting .254/.305/.434 with 19 homers. His plate discipline was spotty, but his power was coming around, he was just 20 years old, and scouts raved about his defensive ability. He was error-prone but his range was excellent. I gave him a Grade B+ in the 1998 book, writing that I wanted "to see improvement in his strike zone judgment, but there is plenty of time for that. Score one for the scouts; Gonzalez looks great." He ranked Number 16 among hitting prospects on my list.
Gonzalez moved up to Triple-A Charlotte for 1998, hitting .277/.330/.443 with 10 homers. He was promoted to Florida late in the year and hit just .151/.240/.279 in 25 games, but did enough to convince the Marlins that it was safe to trade Edgar Renteria and turn the shortstop job over to Gonzalez for 1999. I gave him another Grade B+ in the 1999 book, noting that Gonzalez should provide some power, field well, and "be able to hit .250 in the majors but I worry about his weak strike zone judgment." I also wrote that "offensively, he could be very similar to Alex Gonzalez of the BlueJays." He ranked 18th on my Top Hitting Prospect list.
Gonzalez took over the shortstop job in 1999, hitting .277/.308/.430 with 14 homers, 15 walks, and 113 strikeouts. As you know, he's held onto a major league job ever since, struggling with injuries at times but staying employed. His bat has turned out pretty much exactly as anticipated: he's shown some power, hit over 20 homers twice, but his OPS+ has never been higher than 99 in a full season, and his career line of .248/.294/.402, OPS+81, is exactly in line with his minor league expectations. He's never developed good plate discipline, which has held him back.
Despite his offensive weaknesses, Gonzalez has kept playing due to his defense. He's led his league in fielding percentage twice and has posted solid range factors. His fielding RAAs were actually negative early in his career, but they got better as he got more experience, and have been above-average eight of the last nine years. Overall, his career WAR of 13.7 isn't terrific by any stretch of the imagination. His peak value was 2003, when 18 homers and strong defense gave him a 3.0 WAR.
Overall, Gonzalez hasn't fully lived up to the potential that scouts saw when he was younger, at least on offense, but he's been in the majors for 13 years, has played 1411 games so far, and has done more to help his teams than hurt them.
Most Similar Players to Alex Gonzalez: Alex S.Gonzalez (of course), Greg Gagne, Eddie Miller, Juan Uribe, Rich Aurilia, Jeff Blauser, Johnny Logan, Zoilo Versailles, and Shawon Dunston.
Of course, what few people know is that Alex Gonzalez actually comes from Kamino and is a clone of Alex S. Gonzalez, who we will examine next.