Giants' Gonzalez carrying on family tradition

Son of five-time big league All-Star making strides with Augusta

Jacob Gonzalez has five home runs in 62 games in the South Atlantic League this season. (Chris Robertson/MiLB.com)

By Andrew Battifarano / MiLB.com | June 21, 2018 10:00 AM

Last June, Jacob Gonzalez and his family gathered in their Scottsdale, Arizona, home and eagerly waited for his name to be called in the Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Luckily for the Gonzalezes, the wait wasn't too long.

With the No. 58 overall pick, the Giants selected the high school third baseman, sending the family into a frenzy. Amidst the raucous celebration, the soon-to-be pro made sure to give his father -- five-time Major League All-Star Luis Gonzalez -- a bit of friendly ribbing.

"I definitely let him know that I was drafted two rounds ahead of him," the younger Gonzalez said. "It was just good laughs."

Following his father's footsteps into the pros was a dream realized for Gonzalez, while also making him part of a prominent crop of Minor Leaguers with a big league pedigree. Toronto youngsters Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette, Cavan Biggio and Kacy Clemens had already begun to garner attention. After the Draft, Gonzalez would be among their ranks, inevitably facing extra expectations and comparisons.

But even as a 19-year-old playing in his first full professional season, he understands that trying to live up to the legacy of a World Series legend with 354 career homers could be a recipe for unnecessary pressure. Instead, he's determined to make his own mark.

"The expectations are always part of it," said Gonzalez, who's ranked as the Giants' No. 10 prospect. "I hold myself to a certain standard of where I want to be. It's part of it, but you try not to pay attention to that part."

Video: GreenJackets' Gonzalez slugs first-inning homer

Giants vice president of player development David Bell is aware of the potential pitfalls those expectations can set up for players who are already under the scrutiny that comes with being a top Draft pick. For Gonzalez, though, Bell sees far and away more positives than negatives coming from the prospect's background.

"It's not always an advantage -- things come along with that," said Bell, a former big leaguer who followed in the footsteps of grandfather Gus Bell and father Buddy Bell. "I know first-hand, that can make it more difficult. With the support Jacob has had, and knowing Luis and being around Jacob, you just see the confidence [Jacob] has and how respectful he is. That maturity level speaks to the support he's had growing up. I think in his case, I do believe it is an advantage."

Making a mark

Growing up in and around Major League stadiums, Gonzalez knew he wanted to live the life of a professional ballplayer when he got the chance. By the time he was a teenager, that possibility was becoming more and more likely.

Over three seasons on the varsity squad at Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, he slugged 19 home runs and hit at a .429 clip over 98 games. Those numbers and his famous father meant there were plenty of opportunities following him. He signed a letter of intent to play at Texas Christian University, but after the Giants made him a second-round pick, it was difficult to turn down the chance to start his professional career. Six days before his 18th birthday, he inked his first contract.

Gonzalez made an impact in the Rookie-level Arizona League quickly, going 2-for-3 with a double and an RBI in his first professional game. The success would carry into the rest of the summer as Gonzalez mashed his way as one of the top hitters on the circuit. He competed for the batting title, finishing with a .339 average, behind only the Padres' Esteury Ruiz (.350) and teammate and top Giants prospect Heliot Ramos.

While it was only 46 games in complex ball, the debut season was more than enough to whet Gonzalez's appetite for bigger and better challenges ahead.

"The first summer, it felt like a dream," he said. "Then I had the offseason to work. Now it's starting to settle in. You start realizing what you need to work on, how you need to improve on it, what you need to do. It's just getting more fun."

Gonzalez admits that his first offseason in pro ball was a little different than what he experienced as an amateur -- he had to learn how to structure his own workouts and choose what areas to focus on. The onus fell squarely on him to get ready for camp by the time Spring Training rolled around.

"It's just being able to know where you're going to go in the spring and what day you've got to be there," Gonzalez said. "Other than that, you've got to get yourself ready when they say, 'We'll see you at this time.' I guess there's more freedom in the fact that you get to kind of do what you need to do to get ready, and then you get after it with the team."

The Giants, impressed with his advanced approach at the plate and the mental preparedness he showed in the Arizona League, tasked him with joining Class A Augusta in the South Atlantic League this season. The pitcher-friendly, full-season circuit would be a challenge for Gonzalez, who turns 20 on Tuesday, but the organization was confident he could handle it.

"Everyone [with the Giants] feels that he's right on track," Bell said. "At this point, you have patience and you allow him to play and you allow him to fail and allow him to adjust. You don't live and die with the day-to-day. You look at the larger body of work."

Making adjustments

When facing pitchers in the Arizona League, Gonzalez found it easy enough to hunt fastballs, waiting for one in the perfect spot. Succeeding in full-season ball, where hurlers throw breaking pitches at various points in a plate appearance, requires a more advanced plan and heightened attention to detail.

Through the first month, Gonzalez batted .259/.312/.400 with eight extra-base hits in 22 contests before recording a .585 OPS in May. But he started to turn a corner in June, when he hit .270 with two homers in 17 games before the All-Star break.

The numbers might not have been as strong as those he posted in the AZL or high school, but Gonzalez is happy with the steps he's making in all facets of the game.

"It's been a lot of fun as a team to be able to come to work every day and play every day," he said. "It's something different, you know? In the short season, you play four days on and then have the one day off. Just getting used to playing every day is the most fun part of it.

"The competition level is a little bit better. You're seeing guys now who can sequence pitches -- off-speed in hitters' counts. It's just the learning and planning off that. You have to plan along with that. You always have to stay one step ahead of everybody. ... That's the fun part and the challenging part at the same time."

On the defensive side, Gonzalez has been penciled in as the GreenJackets' third baseman in all 51 of his starts in the field. Though he's committed 18 errors in 112 total chances, he believes that the adjustments he's made at the hot corner will pay off in the second half of the season.

"It's all going to click," he said. "All I can do is keep working at it, keep working on my footwork, and then I think everything else will fall into place. It's one of those things that I'm working hard at, so I'm not super-worried about it."

While there have been questions about whether Gonzalez will stick as a third basemen, San Francisco believes he has the raw skills and smarts to make the necessary improvements at the position. Bell, who logged 986 games at third base in the Majors, thinks Gonzalez has the right makeup and tools to be able to become an everyday third baseman and is progressing nicely in the South Atlantic League.

"There are so many factors that make playing every single day at that level a difficult challenge," Bell said. "Third base in that league is a tough, tough ask for a young kid. There's factors with the field, getting to know yourself. There are all kinds of things that play into it that can lead to some errors -- and that's OK.

"The key is to continue to work on the areas that you can control, continue to work on your footwork. The key is to stay super-aggressive as far as wanting to make all of the plays. ... He's a big kid, but we believe he can stay at that position."

Having grown up in Arizona, Gonzalez has had to face changes off the field, too. Aside from packing his bags and moving nearly 2,000 miles to the East Coast, there have been long bus rides in the seven-state league.

"The traveling part is probably the biggest adjustment," he said. "They make it as easy as possible for us. We get fed really well. And the Giants just treat us great. Especially with all the travel, they make it easy on us young guys."

And whenever things get tough, help is only a phone call away. Gonzalez knows his dad went through it all in his 2,898 professional games, from Class A all the way to his last days with the Marlins in 2008.

Every couple of days the two chat about the son's latest at-bats, or about the state of baseball as a whole. They're valuable phone calls, and the younger Gonzalez doesn't take for them granted.

"Anything that's happened to me, he's already been through, which helps me out because we can talk about it or we can go through certain game situations and how to go about things differently," Gonzalez said. "He just told me to go out there and have fun every day and just work as hard as I can.

"Because if I go out there and work hard and have a good time, then everything else will fall into place. Take every day like it's a new day and just keep working. That's pretty much it."

The next steps

Holding a great appreciation for the competition his father went up against in the big leagues, Gonzalez is excited for the future of the game and loves seeing Guerrero mash homers and Bichette hit from gap to gap -- understanding that he and his peers have a unique opportunity to add to what their families have already done in baseball while also creating their own legacies.

"It's awesome. It's fun watching those guys," Gonzalez said. "I check up on them all the time, because it was watching their dads play and then watching them play and me play. To me, it's awesome to follow up on them, check on them. Watching the dads on TV and knowing that their sons are going to be on TV, it's super-cool to me. It just draws more generations into the sport, which is what we all want."

Video: Gonzalez slugs two-run dinger for Augusta

Heading into the second half of the season, Gonzalez is eager to make some waves with his teammates, and his scores of 50 in hitting and 55 for power on the 20-80 scouting scale suggest his numbers could soon be on the rise.

"The first half I just really worked on changing some of the things I was doing," he said. "The second half I think is where I'm going to put them into play. I'm going to use my same approach all the time hitting and I'm going to use my footwork on defense. It's kind of putting those things into action instead of just throwing them out there and playing with it. I think it'll be a fun second half. It'll be a good one."

MiLB include,

Bell is sure the infielder has the tools to make it through his first long year successfully.

"I don't care how confident you are, or how good your makeup or character you have: the challenges [of] playing a full season will get to anyone," Bell said. "It's the players that can stick with it that can fight through it and grind through it that you look up and, all of a sudden, they're in the big leagues. They've learned how to grind it out. It creates a sense of toughness through the rest of your career. And that's exactly what he's doing at this point and what we expect in the second half."

Of course, when a new challenge or question arises, Gonzalez knows he has some extra support outside of the system, too.

"Having [my father] around just helps tremendously," Gonzalez said. "Being able to talk things out, work things out. Being able to talk hitting, or just talk baseball or just get my mind off everything. Having him around is a huge benefit."

Andrew Battifarano is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow him on Twitter, @AndrewAtBatt. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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