If I asked the average baseball fan “what player leads all of baseball in home runs”, most would rattle off names such as Albert Pujols, Ryan Howard, Mark Texieria, or Prince Fielder. But the answer is none of those big time power hitting first basemen, it is San Diego slugger Adrian Gonzalez with 22 big flies. Gonzalez has quietly become the second best first baseman in the National League behind the great Albert Pujols and at 27 Gonzalez is one of the best power hitters in all of baseball.
Gonzalez has been putting up huge numbers for the past three years in relative obscurity while playing for the Padres.
Gonzalez was a much hyped player coming out of Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, California. In fact the Marlins selected Gonzalez with the first overall pick in the 2000 MLB First-Year Players Draft.
After suffering a wrist injury during his development in the Marlins minor league system the organization became fearful that Gonzalez’s swing would be permanently hindered and traded him to the Texas Rangers for Ugueth Urbina. Yes the same Ugueth Urbina who is currently serving a fourteen year prison sentence in his home country of Venezuela for attacking five farm workers on his property with a machete and attempted to pour gasoline on them.
Gonzalez played sparingly during two seasons with the Rangers. In fact Gonzalez played just 59 games for the Rangers because they already had their power hitting first baseman of the future in Mark Texieria. So Gonzalez was traded during the 2006 off-season along with staring pitcher Chris Young and outfielder Terrmel Sledge to the Padres for Adam Eaton(yes that Adam Eaton) and Akinori Otsuka.
Once Gonzalez found a home with the Padres the former first overall pick showed the potential everyone had expected.
In 2007 while playing 161 games Gonzalez hit .282 with 30 homers, 100 RBI, and slugged .502.
Last season Gonzalez really came into his own as a top tier power hitter at the major league level. While playing in all 162 of San Diego’s games Gonzalez hit .279 with 36 home runs, 119RBI, and slugged .510. The league began to take notice of the incredible numbers Gonzalez was putting up in 2008 as he was named to his first of All Star game.
What makes all of his huge power numbers even more impressive is that Gonzalez has put up these numbers while playing 81games a year in the cavernous Petco Park. Petco is the hardest stadium in all of baseball to hit the ball over the fence; the stadium has been 30th out of 30 major league ballparks since its opening in 2004 allowing well under one home run a game. Even while playing in a stadium built to be the ultimate pitchers park in 30 games in 2009 he has 7 home runs is slugging .485
This season the 27 year old Gonzalez not only leads all of baseball with his 22 home runs but he is also hitting .275 with 43RBI, and is slugging a mind boggling .623.
Gonzalez isn’t only outstanding at the dish but he is also an excellent fielding first baseman. Gonzalez won his first Gold Glove in 2008 and both his range factor and fielding percentage have risen precipitately every season.
When you look at all of the amazing things Gonzalez does on the field he may be the best value in all of baseball. Gonzalez is making just $3.125 million this season; and is signed for next year at $4.75 with a club bonus for 2011 at $5.5million.
For a team that is in major financial trouble the possibility of Gonzalez moving to a contending ball club at the trade deadline is a very real possibility. Rumors are already floating around baseball that the both the Red Sox and Mets may make a serious run to acquire Gonzalez. Getting a 27 year old, left handed, middle of the order bat that comes on the cheap is an exciting proposition for any team….sadly the Orioles will likely not be in the running as they continue rebuilding. Gonzalez would also put up huge numbers playing 81 games in any ballpark other than Petco. With a change of scenery to a big market Gonzalez may breakout among mainstream baseball fans and receive the appreciation he deserves, until then lets just keep this between you and me.