12/03/2003 12:38 PM ET
Gonzalez hones skills in Venezuela
Signed with Tribe as undrafted free agent at age of 17
CLEVELAND -- Luis Gonzalez probably won't be the first name mentioned when hot stove enthusiasts start firing up conversations regarding the Tribe's future.
By Todd Lorenz / MLB.com
In fact he isn't likely to be mentioned at all.
However, the 24-year-old infielder has quietly put together some pretty impressive minor league numbers since signing with the Indians as an undrafted free agent when he was just 17 years old.
That was back in 1996 and Gonzalez didn't waste any time proving he could hit professional pitching.
A native Venezuelan, Gonzalez spent his first pro season showing his countrymen -- and the Indians -- enormous potential in the Venezuelan League.
In 1997 , he hit .362 with seven doubles, one home run and 19 RBIs over 52 games.
After spending the 1998-99 campaign with Class A Columbus, Gonzalez had two pro seasons in the U.S. and a .282 batting average under his cap, enough to earn him a promotion to Class A Kingston where he hit a slight bump in the road. He finished the 2000 campaign with a .246 batting average over 79 games, but he worked his way through it to post a .322 mark through 52 games in 2001 prior to moving up to Double-A Akron.
Since then, Gonzalez has hit .299 (267-for-893) for the Aeros, including an impressive .318 average in 2003 to help the team win the Eastern League championship. Now he's once again honing his craft as a member of the Venezuelan League's Oriente Caribes.
As of last Friday (Nov. 28), Gonzalez was hitting .308 (41-for-133) with eight doubles, a pair of triples, five home runs and a league-leading 41 RBIs. He was also boasting a .511 slugging percentage and the league's Player of the Month Award for October.
What should be equally pleasing to the Indians, who finished 13th in the 14-team American League with a .316 on-base percentage, is his increased patience at the plate.
Through his first six pro seasons, Gonzalez had drawn 126 walks while striking out 270 times. This season, though, he drew 46 free passes against 41 Ks with Akron.
That trend is continuing this winter. He's reaching base at a .414 clip, drawing 21 walks against 23 strikeouts through 37 games.
Defensively he's been spending most of his time playing first and third base for the Oriente club, but he's already proven himself one of the most versatile defenders in the Cleveland farm system.
He began his career as a shortstop in 1998, but the Aeros found him more than capable of playing anywhere this season. He finished the year with an overall fielding percentage of .985 while playing 43 games at first base, 32 at second, 12 at third, six at shortstop and 15 in the outfield.
Despite his impressive overall numbers, though, Gonzalez is probably still a few seasons away from seeing action at Jacobs Field.
The primary reason appears to be that he's 5 feet 10 inches tall and weighs
just 170 pounds, a less than ideal size for a corner infielder. So his biggest hurdle over the next few years will likely be gaining strength and power.
But with every .300 season he puts up, his size will mean a little bit less.
Todd Lorenz is an editorial producer for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.