Before 2009: Gonzalez was signed by the Yankees as a non-drafted free agent in 2002. He was sent to the organization’s Gulf Coast League affiliate to start his career that season, and hit .275 with a home run and eight RBI in 19 games.
He would slowly start to climb through the system in 2003, playing a full season in Short Season-A Staten Island, putting up a disappointing year which led to his return to the club in 2004 after an equally disappointing start to that season in Low-A Battle Creek. Yes, Gonzalez has been in the organization for so long that he played for Battle Creek.
But the organization stuck with Gonzalez, sending him to Low-A Charleston in 2005. He rewarded them with his first solid full season of minor league play, hitting .286 with 10 home runs and 52 RBI in 89 games.
But he’d stall out again, spending the next two and a half seasons at High-A Tampa, despite posting some pretty decent numbers each season. He hit no lower than .259, had his first double-digit home run season and posted a career high in stolen bases all while with Tampa.
2008 marked what seemed to be Gonzalez’s true breakout season, as he combined for a career high 20 home runs and 85 RBI between Tampa and Trenton. Called up to Trenton in the first few days of May that year, he hit a career high .295 and played a key role in helping the Thunder to their second straight Eastern League championship. After taking so long to make the jump to Double-A, Gonzalez’s breakout year finally put him on some people’s prospect radars, and big things were expected of him in 2009.
2009: Gonzalez had the option to sign anywhere else as a minor league free agent prior to the start of the 2009 season, but decided to return on a one-year deal. It seemed inevitable that at some point during the year, given his standout 2008 season and age (26), that he’d be seeing time in Triple-A Scranton sooner rather than later.
That never happened.
Injuries and inconsistent play hampered Gonzalez all season long, leading to a season that statistically appeared to be more like the ones he had at the beginning of his career and not what people had come to expect after 2008. He hit just .232, and added only four home runs in 413 at-bats (1 in every 103.25 at-bats) after going deep once every 25.35 at-bats the previous season.
After 2009: Gonzalez will again become a minor league free agent, and the demands for his services likely won’t be what they were around this time last year, where he actually turned down better offers from other teams. I enjoyed covering Gonzalez quite a bit. He was one of the more friendly guys on the team and would often go out of his way to say hello to you…which again, in a normal social situation sounds incredibly stupid to compliment someone on, but countless guys will walk past you like you don’t exist, so it was appreciated. He would often help reporters out when a translator was needed as well.
I’m not sure where Gonzalez will end up in 2010, but hopefully he can land on his feet somewhere. Maybe he’s Cody Ehlers — a guy who put up one outstanding season and fizzled out afterwards — but it’s worth a shot to see if he can recapture that sort of magic.
Mike Ashmore, mashmore98 AT gmail.com