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Minor League Spotlight: Catcher Alfredo Gonzalez

Under-the-Radar AA Catcher Alfredo Gonzalez Could Become More Well Known

Jonathan Dyer-USA TODAY Sports

Young Venezeulan catcher Alfredo Gonzalez had a stellar 2015 campaign between the A and AA minor league levels.  Playing in the lower levels of the Astros' minor league system, Gonzalez was an under-the-radar prospect.  But that may have ended when the Astros placed him on the 40 man roster in the off-season.  This is a pretty good sign that the Astros like what they see in Gonzalez--and that scouts noticed him enough that he could have been plucked out of the Rule 5 draft, unless protected.

You don't know about Gonzalez?  Yogi Berra is the patron saint of catchers, and he once said: "In baseball you don't know nothing."

From age 18 - 20, Gonzalez played at the rookie league level.  On the surface, his stats were not noteworthy.  But he was very young and the primary objective at that level is instructional.  At age 21 in Tri-City, there were some positive signs for the young catcher.  On offense he posted a .716 OPS in 146 plate appearances, and, behind the plate, he threw out 15 of 18 attempted base stealers.

Then, at age 22, Gonzalez vaulted upward quickly, starting in Quad Cities, getting promoted to A+ Lancaster, and ending up in AA Corpus Christi. He showed very good signs on offense, putting up a ..321, .409, .378, .786 (OPS) slash line across the three levels.  On defense, he threw out 47% of attempted base stealers.  Although his 2015 offensive results were encouraging, we know that the Astros place a lot of value on catcher defense; and Gonzalez is reputed to have a gun for an arm.

Let's talk about his offense in 2015.  He was a consistent .300+ hitter in all three levels, and posted a wRC+ of 169, 125, and 110 in A, A+, and AA respectively.   The results are very good, but the knock on taking those numbers at face value is the high BABIP.   His BABIP exceeded .400 in A and A+ and was .370 in AA.  However, evaluating BABIP for minor leaguers is tricky business; we don't know how much BABIP over performance is luck and how much represents talent above the minor league level that he was assigned.  Gonzalez has shown little power at the minor league level, which means that his hitting will continue to be tied to BABIP.  But, still, he could become a productive major leaguer.  Think about the Astros' productive back up catcher 15 or so years ago, Tony Eusebio.  Eusebio posed a .275, .346, .383 .729 (OPS) career slash line, with a career .320 BABIP.  For what it's worth, Gonzalez's minor league stats through age 22 compare favorably to Eusebio's through the same age.

With the loss of some minor league depth in the farm system, Gonzalez's usage in spring games will be of interest.  Reportedly manager A.J. Hinch was working with Gonzalez on the first day or camp.  And, given the large number of pitchers working out in spring training, teams need a lot of catchers.   Although it is unlikely that Gonzalez makes the ML squad  this season, it's not impossible.  If Gonzalez has good results in AA/AAA this season, a September call up is possible.  And, if the Astros suffer catcher injuries at the ML level, maybe it's possible that he gets an earlier call up, assuming that he continues to hit the ball well in the minors.