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Luis González: double hungry

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Somewhat overlooked among White Sox prospects, the fleet center fielder shot up the organizational charts in his first full pro season

Big step: In González’s first full pro season, he turned plenty of heads.
Tiffany Wintz (@TiffW96)/South Side Sox

The Chicago White Sox farm system is currently ripe with top prospects, and much of that organizational strength is the product of exceptional outfield and pitching talent.

For that reason, Luis González often falls victim to a numbers crunch when he is ranked on organizational top-prospect lists. While there are others in the system with tools that scream, González doesn’t have that one eye-popping tool. Instead, he has to settle … settle for just being really damn good at everything that can be done on a baseball field.

Drafted from the University of New Mexico in the third round of the 2017 draft, González was signed to an under-slot, $517,000 bonus (slot value was $635,500). After signing, he had a very short stint in Great Falls (four games) before playing 63 games and finishing the season in Kannapolis. His 2017 stat line in Kannapolis was underwhelming, as he hit .245 with two HR in 233 at-bats.

Talking to González about this, he conveyed that he felt pressure to perform and wanted to justify his draft position right out of the box. He felt that he may have been pressing during his first two months at Kannapolis, during which he hit a brutal .193 over his first 135 at-bats. However, a closer look reveals he still managed a .317 OBP, and worked 26 walks during these 164 plate appearances.

González flourished in August, hitting .314. with a .397 OBP and .873 OPS. He was exhausted after his whirlwind college season and professional indoctrination, and went 0-for-10 in his final three games, with five strikeouts.

Before the 2018 season, González had set seemingly lofty personal goals. However, the pressure to reach these goals never fazed him — he started the season with his foot on the proverbial pedal and never let up. González really caught my attention in the season’s third game, when he was facing a very tough, right-handed starter, Phillies 2017 second round draft pick Spencer Howard. González worked a long at-bat before mauling a fastball for a home run to the power alley on his pull side.

It was a frequent theme for González to put together long, pesky at-bats against opposing pitchers, an approach helped him slash .300/.358/.492 OBP at Kannapolis before earning a selection as a SAL All-Star and promotion to the High-A Winston-Salem Dash.

González responded impressively to his promo by slashing his way to .313/.376/.504 while decreasing his strikeout rate against more advanced pitching. Despite playing in only 62 games, González narrowly missed leading the team in doubles with 24 (Gavin Sheets had 28, in 119 games). A very encouraging sign is the way González absolutely abused same-sided pitchers. In 114 at-bats he tattooed left-handed pitchers to the tune of .360/.419/.470.

Listed at 6´1´´ and 185 pounds, González hits from the left-hand side with an open stance. His pre-swing routine is fairly quiet, with just enough movement to keep him loose in the box. Although González’s open setup might suggest a pull-heavy approach, he has no trouble covering the outer half of the plate or hitting to all fields.

White Sox scout John Kazanas, who was responsible for González’s signing, identifies that Luis has a characteristic that is often absent in young hitters: “He’s able to make a correction in his approach during an at-bat.” Kazanas offers that while other young hitters may have a pull-heavy approach and mash baseballs from middle-in, they can be made to look foolish when a pitcher makes an adjustment and throws them a cutter, whereas González “won’t get mismatched, and he’s going to find a way to get one good swing on a pitch during an at-bat.”

Kazanas says that he recognized González’s talent when Gonzalez was a prep player at Catalina Foothills H.S. in Tucson. At that time, Luis was often being overlooked due to the presence of another local star, current Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder, Alex Verdugo. “Luis was kind of the step-child to Alex Verdugo,” Kazanas says. “They were both from the same region, played the same position, and pitched, both lefthanders.”

The scout suggests that Luis may end up a better player than Verdugo in the long run, and may bring more power as well: “Those doubles (González led the entire organization with 40) are going to turn into homers one day.”

Among González’s many strengths, Kazanas points to his makeup. “He was like a fly in a jar,” he says. “He had great energy. He would sprint to and from his position. His opponents probably saw him as a pest. He took it upon himself to be a leader and make an impact on and off the field.”

The González signing is a great example of the White Sox organizational strategy to draft high-character players. The scouting and player development staff believe that a player’s makeup is just as important as his athletic ability, and they are striving to acquire players that satisfy this whole package. This winning attitude has really shined throughout the organization, and should continue to serve the rebuild effort well.

In the field, González has shown incredible fast-twitch reflexes on defense, and he rarely wastes any movement or time in tracking down fly balls. In one early-season 2018 game in Kannapolis, an opposing hitter hammered a gapper that everyone in the park assumed was going to fall in and end up a double or triple. Somehow, González took off on the crack of the bat and made an unbelievable, over-the-shoulder, warning track grab that can best be described as “Willie Mays-like.” These sensational defensive plays became the norm during González’s tenure in center field.

González was a two-way player in both high school and college, and possesses a plus throwing arm as a result. When you watch the infielders and outfielders playing catch during pregame warmups, it is very easy to recognize González as he displays the arm strength of a pitcher. Per Kazanas, Luis was being clocked at 92-93 mph when he was on the mound in high school. The pitching background also serves him well as a hitter, as he is able to understand the way pitchers try to set him up and strategize against him.

Kazanas would like to see González improve both his base stealing and bunting abilities. Thus far in his minor league career, González has been caught in 10-of-22 stolen base attempts. The scout feels that by enhancing his bunting ability, González would have an extra weapon against tough pitchers. “On any given day, there are going to be pitchers that you just can’t see well,” Kazanas says. “But if you can lay down a good bunt, you might get a hit and go 1-for-4, instead of 0-for-4. Then you have something to build on the next day.”

Kazanas extols the virtues of quality bunting by explaining bunting keeps the defense honest, as it might have to cheat a little bit, giving a hitter an extra three to five feet. This extra real estate can afford the hitter the chance to bloop the ball in or squeeze one through the infield, an opportunity that wouldn’t have existed without the threat of a bunt. Mathematically, these two skills looked at in concert can make the difference between a .250 hitter who’s looking for a job and a .290 hitter who’s signing a free-agent contract worth millions.

White Sox fans have a lot to be excited about in the future, and González is one of the many players we have to look forward to on the South Side. Scouts have compared González favorably to David Peralta (Arizona Diamondbacks) and Ender Inciarte (Atlanta Braves). Along with plus tools across the board, González has received praise for both his character and work ethic.

“He’s very determined,” Kazanas says. “He’s not going to cheat you out of one at-bat, one inning. He’s going to find a way to impact the game in one way, whether it be with his glove, arm, legs, or bat. And he’s a very caring young man; he cares about others.”

Although he may not get the publicity of some of his organizational teammates, González is humble and takes it all in stride. “It’s been good to be overlooked at times,” González says. “It makes me hungrier to prove people otherwise.”

In 2019, the Southern League should be very afraid of a hungry Luis González.