Baseball Fans, Meet Adrian Gonzalez: A Star Rising
He is pleased to meet you, baseball fan.
He obviously figures you must need the introduction, since not many of you caught him this spring representing Mexico in the WBC, nor have his major league-leading 20 home runs given him enough recognition to help him crack the top five in the NL first baseman All-Star ballot.
Oh, he's in the top 10 in walks, RBI, slugging percentage, and OPS in the NL too.
One-hit wonder, you say? Nonsense. Adrian's been consistently brilliant for a while now.
Gonzalez is only in his fourth full season in the bigs, and in that span he's never hit below .279, 24 HR, and 82 RBI. In fact, from 2006-08, Adrian's 100 dingers and 301 RBI average out to 33 HR and 100 RBI per year.
If you didn't know better, you'd guess there was a vacuum cleaner in his glove; last year's .996 fielding percentage (only six errors in 1442 chances) netted him a Gold Glove.
He's cheap, too. His $3.125 million salary is tons less than other, lesser-producing first basemen.
He makes $13 million less than Colorado's Todd Helton (6 HR), $11 million less than Houston's Lance Berkman (.235 BA), and $9 million less than the Mets' Carlos Delgado (4 HR, on the DL since May 11).
With all the hubbub surrounding SP Jake Peavy and his potential trade to everywhere from Chicago to New York to Johannesburg, Gonzalez has quietly put together one of the best individual seasons in San Diego Padres history.
His sprint to 20 HR by May 31 is the fastest in franchise history, especially impressive considering Adrian plays half of his games at Petco Park, one of the most pitcher-friendly stadiums in the history of baseball.
His sweet swing has frustrated pitchers who have tried pitching inside to the left-hander—Gonzalez just uses his tremendous bat speed and wrist strength to pull the ball—or outside—in which case he just slams it to the opposite field.
Flanked by talented, but flawed, players like Kevin Kouzmanoff, Chase Headley and Scott Hairston (who combine for 14 HR in 2009) San Diego's mediocre 25-25 record through the end of May would no doubt be replaced by a more putrid pace without Gonzalez in the middle of that lineup.
Even with the more recognizable Peavy and SP Chris Young on the ball club, as well as CL Heath Bell's impressive start to the season (15 for 16 in save opportunities, first in the National League), no one is more deserving of an All-Star nod than Gonzalez.
With big-market club fans stuffing the ballots for their favorite players and the inclusion of certain players being debated (really? Manny Ramirez?), it's likely that Peavy and Bell might be overlooked for the Mid-Summer Classic.
However, Major League Baseball's policy of representing every team in the All-Star game with at least one player will probably result in Gonzalez taking the field for his second All-Star appearance July 14th at Busch Stadium.
If you can't find him, he's the quiet, unassuming guy with a goatee and a big "Gonzalez 23" on his back.
Nice to meet you.
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