Notes: Gonzalez already a hit for A's
Top prospect 'very impressive' in first appearance for new club
PHOENIX -- Carlos Gonzalez made his first appearance at Athletics Spring Training on Thursday at Papago Park, and the man many consider the best prospect in the organization didn't disappoint.
Manager Bob Geren said Gonzalez was "very impressive to a lot of the staff" Thursday, both in batting practice and the way he tracked down balls in the outfield. The A's hadn't seem him before, though, so there is still a lot to learn, such as whether they're comfortable playing Gonzalez in center or if he should remain a corner outfielder.
Gonzalez, a 22-year-old lefty, was the jewel of the Dan Haren trade and is in contention for an Opening Day roster spot. Last year, Gonzalez hit a combined .288 with 17 home runs and 86 RBIs, after which he was named the Diamondbacks' top prospect by Baseball America. The publication currently considers Gonzalez the Athletics' top prospect.
"Well, when I hear that, I feel happy, but I try not to think about it," Gonzalez said.
The only real issue with Gonzalez's Minor League record is one that the A's tend to take rather seriously: plate discipline. Gonzalez has walked 162 times and struck out 455 times in 2,106 Minor League at-bats. Last year, he walked 38 times and struck out 109.
However, Gonzalez said he isn't worried about coming to an organization that tends to insist upon patience at the plate.
"This year, I think, is going to be a very different year, because this team likes to walk a lot, but I think it's going to help me a lot," Gonzalez said, "because I used to swing at everything."
And while Gonzalez was one of the last to arrive at Spring Training this year, he's already in game shape. He played for Aguilas de Zulia in the Venezuelan League, hitting .262 -- and walking 17 times -- in 143 at-bats.
"My team is in my hometown," he said, "and my whole family gets to watch me play."
In 2006, Gonzalez led all Class A players in slugging percentage (.562), was sixth among all Minor Leaguers in extra-base hits (68) and was the starting right fielder in the All-Star Futures Game at PNC Park in Pittsburgh.
When in the Midwest League in 2005, Gonzalez was selected by managers as the league's best hitting prospect, best defensive player, strongest outfield arm and most exciting player.
Gonzalez played 95 games in right field, 22 in center field and one in left field for Double-A Mobile, while all 10 of his games for Triple-A Tucson came in center field. While his remarkable throwing arm might seem best suited to right field, Gonzalez said he doesn't care where he plays.
"I'll play anywhere," he said. "I'll play catcher if they want me to."
Spirited start: Geren was fired up after coaches gave a round of speeches to groups of players Thursday at Papago Park.
"It was great, we had some outstanding meetings that will set the tone for the season." Geren said. "We've got Gold Glovers, we've got All-Stars and World Series rings in guys' trophy cases. We're going to take a team with us that's hungry and ready to win."
One consistent message from coaches to players this year has been the need for the A's to be competitive in 2008.
"The rebuilding process in this organization is done at the Minor League level," Geren said. "In the Major Leagues, it's all about winning."
Building versatility: Due to both the A's injury-plagued 2007 season and the fact that coaches haven't seen many young Athletics play much or at all, there is a focus on players broadening their defensive abilities this spring.
"We're trying to get all the infielders to play every position, and we're trying to see with all the outfielders if they can play center or if they're better suited for the corners," Geren said.
Solid session: Right-hander Justin Duchscherer threw a two-inning bullpen session Thursday, and Geren said pitching coach Curt Young was "extremely encouraged" by how well Duchscherer threw.
Mark Thoma is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.