It isn’t easy to talk about the Colorado Rockies in the 2009 playoffs without mentioning the surprising play of Carlos Gonzalez.
Just 23-years-old at the time and coming off his most productive season as a pro, Gonzalez was 10-for-17 in the four game NLDS series. He had at least two hits in each of the four games, scoring five runs and stealing two bases, even though the Rockies fell to the eventual NL Champion Philadelphia Phillies.
Though Gonzalez was still considered a high-level prospect when he came over from the Oakland A’s in the Matt Holliday trade, his performance in the majors was largely disappointing in Oakland.
Playing for AAA Colorado Springs early in the 2009 season, Gonzalez caught fire and forced his way into regular playing time with the Rockies. Many thought it was the momentum he would need to start cashing in on his immense talent.
In his first two months with the team, however, he struggled as he had with Oakland, unable to make consistent contact and looking overmatched against left-handed pitching.
Then, in early August, something seemed to click. Gonzalez finished the month with a .371 average, six home runs, and only 13 strikeouts.
The hot streak did not continue all year, but he finished the year respectably. In less than 300 at bats, Gonzalez hit .284 with 13 homers, 29 RBI, and 16 stolen bases, which went with an impressive and unexpected .353 on base percentage.
Going into 2010, the Rockies have added even more depth to a team that already shared playing time among its many talented young players.
In the outfield alone, Rockies Manager Jim Tracy will have to find room for Gonzalez, Dexter Fowler, Brad Hawpe, Seth Smith, and Ryan Spilborghs.
Such depth is considered an advantage going into the grueling 162-game baseball season, but it means less work for young players who may need to play themselves out of slumps in order to maintain their place with the team.
After Gonzalez’s playoff outburst, however, expect the 24-year-old Venezuelan to come out of Spring Training as the starting left-fielder in Coors Field. He will likely spend time in the top two positions in the lineup, depending on how well Dexter Fowler plays in his sophomore season.
Looking at the long term, it’s entirely possible to expect Gonzalez to develop more of a power stroke as he refines his approach and his strikeouts decrease. A high-end projection for Gonzalez might be as a middle of the order bat with above average speed and exceptional defense in the outfield.
Whatever happens, if the playoffs were any indication of what this young man can do, Rockies fans won’t be disappointed come April when he is back on the field again.