Back in the beginning of July, I put together a developmental blueprint for Heliot Ramos that centered on the areas he needs to improve upon as he being the trek to AT&T Park. Today, I’m going to take a look at his draft-mate and the San Francisco Giants’ #15 overall prospect, Jacob Gonzalez.
Similar to Ramos, Gonzalez has lit the Arizona Rookie League on fire at the age of 19. Through 41 games, Gonzalez is hitting .353 with a .437 on-base percentage. Perhaps the most impressive of all Gonzalez’s numbers? He owns a near 1 to 1 strikeout to walk ration (16-19), a rarity for young players who are just beginning to learn the arts of pitch recognition and strikezone discipline.
Despite Gonzalez’s abundant success, he has some significant room for improvement both offensively and defensively, which is absolutely to be expected for a player who is one season removed from high-school.
Some have expressed concern about his lack of power to date (1 homerun), however based on Gonzalez’s swing and projectable body type, I believe he will evolve into a 25-30 homerun hitter at the Big League level.
The two glaring red flags in Gonzalez’s game are his defense and his (lack of) speed. As Shaun Kernahan of SB Nation says, “Gonzalez is very slow, making the infield dirt look like quick sand when he is running the bases and further enforcing the long term first baseman outlook rather than making left field much of a possibility.” For the time being, the Giants are sticking with Gonzalez at 3rd to see if he can develop into a serviceable defender, especially considering their lack of options at the hot corner both in the minor leagues and on the Major League roster.
Through his 34 games at 3rd base, Gonzalez has already committed 12 errors and owns an extremely-poor .844 fielding percentage. To put that into perspective, the lowest fielding percentage of Major League 3rd baseman right now is .938, by the Angels’ Yunel Escobar. At such a young stage of development, the Giants are doing the right thing in attempting to develop Gonzalez defensively, but based on what I’ve seen of him, I believe 1st base (or perhaps left-field) will end up being his position of the future.
As it pertains to his swing, Gonzalez is able to mask some of his flaws and inconsistencies due to the caliber of pitching he faces in the Arizona Rookie League. Generally speaking, Arizona Rookie League pitchers are extremely raw, yet full of potential. Most are high velocity, max effort throwers who don’t yet possess the ability to command multiple pitches. Due to this lack of command and inability to be consistently effective with their off-speed arsenal, hitters like Gonzalez can be extremely successful with a single skill – the ability to make quality contact with high velocity fastballs.
As Gonzalez begins to climb the organizational ladder (which will likely begin next season at age 20), pitchers will become more effective in being able to read swings and expose weaknesses. As a result, Gonzalez’s ability to quickly make adjustments will play a determining role is his success as a minor league hitter.
Without even looking at video, we know, based on his statistical performance, that Gonzalez possesses two elite skills – hand-eye coordination, and bat speed. Once we dive into the video, we’re given perhaps a better understanding of the areas where Gonzalez will need to improve.
The biggest difference (for readers) between Heliot Ramos and Jacob Gonzalez, is that despite both of their successes, young hitters can relate to (and learn from) Gonzalez much moreso than Ramos. On one hand, Ramos is a physical freak who’s supreme athleticism and God-given abilities make hitting look fluid and easy. Gonzalez, on the other hand, is more of a “baseball player” who doesn’t possess nearly the athleticism as Ramos, but whose future is based more on projectability and development than current performance. Young players can learn a lot from following a hitter like Gonzalez because he currently does a lot of the same things that high-school hitters do, he’s just much better at it. However, as he progresses, Gonzalez’s swing will need to change (much more than someone like Ramos), and in understanding both how and why he makes the changes he does, young hitters can attempt to incorporate some of the same mechanical adjustments to help make them better hitters.
When you look at the swings of both Ramos and Gonzalez, you can see how much differently they are in regards to violence, athleticism, and fluidity.
The first things that stands out to me involving Gonzalez’s approach to hitting, is the fact that he owns 2 distinctly different swings – one for 2 strike counts, and one for non two-strike counts (typically something you see in high school, and sometimes college). Having dealt with young hitters, I can say with relative certainty that this is a direct result of Gonzalez 1) trying to hit for more power, and 2) putting too much emphasis on striking out. Given that he’s hit only 1 homerun to date, he may be doing things within his swing to generate more homerun consistency. However as I stated previously, his ability to hit homeruns will come as he develops.
Heliot Ramos has a swing that’s build for power – Gonzalez needs to learn how to use his big frame and length to incorporate power. The problem, at least for now, is that Gonzalez has so much room for growth despite already being 6’3”, 195. Gonzalez’s body is going to be so much different 2 or 3 years from now, that if he’s able to learn to swing the right way, his power will come as he physically develops. This process, in a nutshell, is what projectability is all about – understanding the strengths and weaknesses of a hitter, and then developing a player to maximize their skill set based on their development both physically and athletically in the future.
From the on-set, we notice the significant difference between Gonzalez’s non-2K (left) and 2K (right) setup. With two strikes, Gonzalez has a much wider, athletic base with a good bend in the knees. Additionally, his hands are separated further back from his head, and lower compared to non-2k situations.
Upon his leg-kick/load, we again see how different the two hitting approaches are. In non-2K counts, Gonzalez sports a big leg-kick, likely in an effort to generate momentum and power. With 2K, Gonzalez is much more simplistic, utilizing a small stride to ensure proper balance and timing.
When the stride foot lands and the swing prepares to come forward (following his front heel planting into the ground), we see a significantly better hitting position with 2K than non-2K. Gonzalez has better flex and balance in his lower half, and is much more square to the pitcher. His hands are separated back over his back foot, and in line with his shoulder-level, establishing a clean/short path to the hitting zone. In non-2K counts, his leg-kick has forced an over-rotation of Gonzalez’s front side, while his hands have loaded up above his head. While in theory, a setup like this would generate more power, the power would need to come from his bigger muscles (such as his shoulders) taking over the swing (instead of his hands), which would be compensating for the added length and distance. Without even factoring in the added movement of a big-leg kick, it isn’t hard to envision which hitting position will be more effective against a pitcher who can command a 95mph fastball on the inner half, and an 88mph slider away.
The other problem this leg-kick presents for Gonzalez has to do with his head and eye level. As I touched on previously, pitch recognition is not overly-critical at this stage of development due to the high use of fastballs. However once Gonzalez begins to climb the organizational ladder, his ability to recognize pitches and make in-swing adjustments will be key to his success.
In circling Gonzalez’s head pre-pitch, we’re able to get a good understanding of how his eyes move throughout the pitch.
After contact, we see how much Gonzalez’s eye-level has changed both horizontally and vertically. In non-2K situations, not only have his eyes dropped an entire head-level, they’ve also lunged out ahead of his original starting point, suggesting that he’s actually cutting down the distance between himself, and the pitcher. With 2K, Gonzalez does a much better job (still not ideal) of settling his head and eyes so he can make proper adjustments to different pitch types, speeds, movements, and locations.
As I have done so often in my swing analysis articles, comparing Gonzalez to the Dodgers’ Corey Seager provides a better illustration of why maintaining a better hitting position consistently will product better results (at least for young hitters) than trying to generate more power with body movements.
When the front toe finishes the stride, Seager is in a perfect hitting position. He is balanced, square to the pitcher, both eyes set on target, hands separated over his back foot, and in a perfect position for the bat to enter the hitting zone early and flat. Gonzalez, on the other hand, is over rotated with his hips, downhill with his shoulders, and high with his hands. No matter what the hand-eye coordination or skill set, a hitting position like this will be exposed by good pitching.
The same can be said if we move ahead one phase to the “heel plant”, which serves as the catapult for the swing to come forward. Gonzalez is working much more vertically whereas Seager’s body is driving back towards the pitcher.
At the “barrel-lag” phase, where the top of the bat is pointing at the catcher, we see the difference between a strong hitting position, and one that is “tied up”. Seager’s hands at at his mid-line, suggesting that a point of contact will occur palm up/palm down, out in front of his chest. Gonzalez’s hands are playing catch-up (as a result of his over-rotation) and are low as a result of how high they raised following his leg-kick.
Based on what I’ve seen of Gonzalez, the first critical lesson that he’ll learn in his development is that “less is more.” The stronger he gets and more body-control he learns, the more he’ll be able to utilize his skill set. Based on his results to date, Gonzalez’s hand-eye coordination and bat speed are rare tools, so his ability to consistently maintain a good position to utilize those tools is what will take his offensive game to the next level.
When it’s all said and done, Gonzalez could possess a very similar body-type to Corey Seager. While it’s unlikely he’ll grow into the type of athlete Seager is, he can learn a valuable lesson from one of the game’s best hitters. Based on the fact that Gonzalez was a 2nd round pick this season and has done so well despite some significant swing inefficiencies, I have no doubt the Giants have already begun to work on a developmental plan like this to ensure Gonzalez’s 25+ homerun potential, translates to AT&T Park.