Some say one of the biggest failures for Washington since the team’s creation has been their inability to land the big free agent. Those people are forgetting about Esmailyn Gonzalez.
In 2006 Gonzalez signed with Washington out of his hometown of Pizarrete, in the Dominican Republic, at the age of 16. The Nats beat out many other Major League suitors and inked this talented phenom shortstop to a minor league deal with a $1.4 million signing bonus.
Gonzalez may very well be the brightest hope for what many consider a weak Washington Nationals farm system. He possesses everything you want in a young prospect; he hits for power, average, he can field, throw and has speed, a true five tool player. The most impressive aspects of this young switch hitter however, are his ability to produce, his head, and his age.
At only the age of 18 Gonzalez finished his second season for the Gulf Coast Nationals in 2008. In 51 games he improved his batting average by 100 points from the year before, finishing the season batting .343, winning the Gulf Coast League batting title. More impressively, Gonzalez continued to show excellent plate patience for the second straight year, improving his on base percentage from .382 to .431.
His Ability to get on base is an excellent sign for his future. Few young players have the ability to accurately select pitches and understand the importance of getting on base. Young players like Gonzalez are often more eager to go out and flash their skills by swinging at every pitch that comes over the plate. While this often works in Rookie and A ball, many young players find these tactics end up killing them when they get to the Big Show. Gonzalez’s plate patience shows great maturity and is a promising sign for his ability to further develop, and quickly.
Jose Reyes vs. Gonzalez
Scouts report that for a young player, Gonzalez hits a way better percentage of line drives than pop-ups. This is clearly evident in his ability to bat .343 last season. Many ‘toolsy’ players receive much attention adoration before they actually put their tools to work. Gonzalez however clearly haw already been able to put it together at the plate, at least for average. This makes him that much more of a promising prospect; his potential is turning into skill already.
Before he is anointed, ‘the savior,’ just yet, lets remember the kid is just 18. Gonzalez has yet to play even a game in A ball and still has a lot to work on. He has only hit two home runs in 82 minor league games, but scouts say his swing and body type should translate to power. His slugging percentage improved from a measly .311 in 2007 to a solid .475 in 2008. His ability to drive the ball for power will need to progress in order for him to move through the ranks.
Most notably, Gonzalez needs to work on his glove. While scouts said that he had very solid hands and smooth mechanics at shortstop, it has yet to translate to on the field success. So far he has already combined for 25 errors in only 79 games at shortstop. This should be a red flag but nothing too alarming. Shortstop after all is the games toughest position and other shortstops have had similar trouble early on. If he can’t figure it out he can always pull a BJ Upton and fill in that centerfield hole in Washington.
Esmailyn Gonzalez may very well be the Nationals top prospect. With another year of success under his belt it’s likely that he will be number one on this list, and within another two years he may be a mid season call up to Nats Park. He projects to be a Derek Jeter type player, who will hit for high average and get on base. The Nationals will continue to be careful with this kid, as he will start the season in A ball Hagerstown next season.