Comfortable Car-Go on Verge of Stardom
But Haren and Holliday share more in common than that. They were both traded for a talented kid named Carlos Gonzalez.
"That's a lot of pressure," Gonzalez said over the weekend in San Francisco. "A lot of people don't realize how hard it is for a player, for a young player, to be traded twice in a year."
After tough starts with each of his new teams, Gonzalez seems to finally have found himself with the Rockies. Gonzalez's trend-line began rising in the second half last season, and it peaked with a phenomenal four-game division series against the Phillies. A month into what should be his first full big-league season, Gonzalez is sitting in the middle of the Colorado order, with a .330 average.
"He's a phenomenal ballplayer," Jason Giambi said. "He's really come into his own, just with everything. It all fell into place. When I came over here last year, after seeing how he played in Oakland and seeing him turn into this player here, it was an incredible transformation. You saw the talent. It was already there. But he's really kind of figured it out."
What happened to Gonzalez since last July is not really a mystery. He followed the path of many high-profile prospects who reach the big leagues with big expectations. In his case, those expectations were magnified because of the players on the other side of the trades.
Gonzalez tried a little too hard to impress his new teams and his new fans. As a result, he swung at too many pitches. Got himself out too much.
Gonzalez, who was 22 the first time he got to the majors with the A's in 2008, hit .242 with 81 strikeouts in half a season. He started last year with the Rockies' Triple-A team. After getting to the big leagues in early June, he proceeded to hit .202 with 25 punchouts in his first 84 at-bats.
Rockies manager Jim Tracy and hitting coach Don Baylor had lectured Gonzalez about his plate discipline.
"The strike zone is not from the top of your helmet to the ground," Tracy said. "That's basically it. Once you realize that and stay within the framework of the strike zone and let your abilities take over, you are going to see yourself and your ability as a baseball player in a different light."
After the All-Star break, Gonzalez hit .320 with 12 homers. He had a .992 OPS. In the playoff series against the Phillies, he had 10 hits in 17 at-bats.
"In the case of he and Dexter Fowler, you have two guys that grew at least a half to three-quarters of another season by just playing four games [in the playoffs]," Tracy said.
The psychological boost from Gonzalez's second half and playoff series carried into this season.
"My confidence is way different than it was in years before," he said. "I feel really good. It's really hard for a young guy to know you belong here. After the All-Star break and the playoffs, everything changed. Everything turned around."
Todd Helton, who briefly surrendered his familiar No. 3 spot in the order to Gonzalez last weekend, said the 24-year-old has the potential to be an impact player.
"He has a chance to be a very very special player," Helton said. "He has a good head on his shoulders. He plays the game the right way. All that good stuff. He's got a chance."
Gonzalez is also a very good outfielder. He had played center with the Diamondbacks and A's, but moved to the corner in Colorado because Fowler is even better at that position. Gonzalez has an outstanding arm and above average speed. FanHouse baseball analyst Frankie Piliere wrote before the season that Gonzalez "is on the verge of stardom," and compared him to Carlos Beltran.
"He's as talented physically as there is in our league," Tracy said. "You are going to have to tell me about something that he can't do, because I've seen him do everything in just the short time I've been sitting here."