During the 2013 season, the Tennessee Smokies will honor three former Smokies that were rewarded with a Gold Glove after the 2012 season. The first 1,500 fans in attendance on May 25 will receive a Carlos Gonzalez bobblehead. View the full Smokies promotions schedule here.
Signed as a free agent by the Arizona Diamondbacks from Venezuela at age 17, scouts saw Carlos Gonzalez as a future Major League star. For Gonzalez, the journey would be a long road to the big leagues that would require eight seasons riding buses in the minors and saw two organizations see him as an expendable piece.
Prior to the 2006 season, Baseball America ranked the 2012 All-Star as the 32nd best prospect in Major League Baseball. With the Smokies organization changing their affiliation to the Cubs at the end of the season, Tennessee fans had a short glimpse of the future Gold Glove winner.
Gonzalez played in just 18 games for the Smokies late in the 2006 season on a squad that finished 70-69. The 2010 National League Batting Title winner accumulated 13 hits, including six doubles and two home runs.
Almost one year later, Gonzalez was packaged in a deal that would help the Diamondbacks acquire Dan Haren from the Oakland A’s. A top-rated prospect in the D-backs organization, Gonzalez would assume the same title for the A’s. However, as Arizona did a year earlier, Oakland would ship him to Colorado for proven big league star Matt Holliday, after Gonzalez hit .242 in 85 games during the 2008 season.
CarGo made history during his short stay in with the A’s big league club. Gonzalez became the first player since Johnny Mize in 1936 to produce extra base-hits as his first seven career base knocks to begin his career. He told MLB.com reporter Jane Lee at the time, ”I don’t know what it is,” Gonzalez said with a slightly giddy laugh before suiting up for Sunday’s game. “It’s pretty exciting, and I never thought anything like this would happen.”
Seven years had passed since CarGo was signed as an amateur and finally a team was willing to give him a chance in its everyday lineup. The Rockies started Gonzalez with Triple-A Colorado Springs to begin the 2009 season, but it was a short lived stay. Gonzalez crushed minor-league pitching hitting .339 with ten home runs, 12 doubles, and 7 triples.
In 2010, Gonzalez finally had his first opportunity to be the opening day starter and he did not disappoint as he competed for the triple crown, hitting .336 with a league-leading 197 hits to go along with 34 home runs, 117 RBI, and 26 stolen bases. The numbers were good enough to earn Gonzalez a Silver Slugger and a third place finish in MVP voting behind Joey Votto and Albert Pujols.
During the season, executives could not stop praising Gonzalez for his ability on the field and how he handled himself off the field. Rockies skipper Jim Tracy told The Denver Post, ”It goes without saying he’s a special player,” Tracy said of Gonzalez. “They talk about a great player being a five-tool player. He’s a six-tool player. His character and unselfishness toward his teammates are off the charts. He’s as graceful an outfielder as I’ve ever seen — playing, coaching, managing. I really believe he’s going to get better and better.”
The Rockies organization showed their commitment by rewarding Gonzalez with a seven-year, $80 million contract in January of 2011, the largest contract signed by a player with only two years of big league service time. Many people believed that Gonzalez could have signed a much larger contract the next season if he decided to wait for free agency.
Gonzalez displayed the altruism that Tracy described in his press conference telling reporters, ”It’s over, and I’m really happy with everything that I got and the opportunity that I have,” Gonzalez said. “I’m not the kind of person who will think, ‘I could’ve done this.’ I do what my heart tells me to do and what’s best for me. This is fair enough for me, and I’m really happy. I just play baseball. You don’t know if you’re going to feel comfortable with anybody else or waiting. Right now, I feel really comfortable with the Rockies.”
The Venezuela native represented his home country in this season’s World Baseball Classic going 2-for-3 with an RBI and two runs scored in his team’s final game against Spain on Sunday. With four more seasons left on his contract, Gonzalez will continue to reap the rewards of playing in Coors Field as he maintains his spot among baseball’s best hitters.
At age 27, the best is yet to come for one of baseball’s bright young stars. Carlos Gonzalez gives Smokies fans an opportunity to cheer for one of their own, a player that is well-rounded individual on and off the field.
Michael Wottreng is a Broadcast and Multimedia Assistant for the Smokies Radio Network. You can follow Michael on Twitter here: @MWottreng