Lynchburg’s Oscar Gonzalez, A Gifted Young Prospect

He is the second youngest player on the Hillcats. Born January 10, 1998, only teammate Nolan Jones is younger than Oscar Gonzalez in the Lynchburg clubhouse. A native of Sabana Grande de Palenque in the Dominican Republic, 2019 is the fifth year of his professional baseball career. At 21 years old, the 2016 MVP of the Arizona League is taking the High-A Carolina League by storm.

Growing up on the southeast coast of the Dominican Republic, Gonzalez began playing baseball at a young age. With three older sisters and two brothers there was always a bat, ball, or glove around.

When asked to recall where his passion for baseball came from, Gonzalez shared with Did The Tribe Win Last Night, “My first time I picked up a bat. Then I started throwing balls to my dad and my friends.”

It was Dominican-American and former Cleveland standout Manny Ramirez who inspired him when he was young. Like Ramirez, Oscar is an outfielder. The majority of his playing time has been in left field, though he occasionally finds himself stationed in right. At either corner outfield position, his plus arm makes him a potent defensive threat. In his minor league career, he has tallied 22 assists from the outfield, showing off his strong and accurate arm.

As a prospect, Gonzalez is ranked 22nd in the Cleveland organization by Baseball America. He features strong bat-to-ball skills, ranking fifth in the Midwest League in hits last season with 135. Gonzalez has continued his strong hitting this season. His .336 batting average has kept him at the top of the league leader board for most of the season. Only Jarren Duran, the right fielder for the Salem Red Sox, has outpaced Gonzalez by maintaining an inhuman .387 average while playing in 50 contests, five games less than Gonzalez.

It is Gonzalez’ hitting that has showed continued improvement across his career, and that marks him out as a player to watch in the Cleveland farm system. Currently, his 38 RBI are third in the Carolina League. His early RBI pace was prodigious. On May 4, game 30 of the season, Gonzalez had totaled 25 RBI, nearly one a game. The recent surge by teammate and fellow prospect Nolan Jones, has limited Gonzalez’ opportunities to add to his total. The typical Hillcats lineup features Gonzalez batting fourth in the cleanup spot, while Jones fills the three hole. With Jones batting .314 over his last 16 games with four home runs and 16 RBI, Gonzalez has seen fewer opportunities to be the bigger run producer.

His productivity is a direct result of putting into practice Cleveland’s hitting philosophy of “swing decisions”.

“He’s learning the importance of swing decisions,” said Hillcats hitting coach Johnny Narron. “It’s something we work on daily with him. We work in the batting cage and during batting practice.”

Gonzalez – Lindsay Carico/Lynchburg Hillcats

As Narron explained, the swing decisions’ philosophy features three pillars – plate discipline, consistency of contact, and impact quality. Gonzalez is developing his ability to master all three of these elements.

“I think about everyday getting better,” said Gonzalez about his play on the field. “Every time I’m going out there I’m thinking about my family.”

It helps that Gonzalez features more than a little natural talent at the plate. The one element of this philosophy that he still struggles with is the plate discipline aspect. He has struck out 45 times in 226 at-bats, while generating only two walks to pair with that.

“He has some things, mechanically and hittability-wise that you just can’t teach,” said Narron. “His bat speed and his exit velocities are at the top of the scale.”

With this in-born talent, Gonzalez works hard every day to make the most of his gifts. His triple slash line of .336/.348/.487 places him third in the Carolina League for OPS (at .835), behind only the previously mentioned Duran (.998) and Carolina catcher Mario Feliciano (.866).

On Memorial Day in the final game of a ten-game homestand and facing visiting Fayetteville, Gonzalez demonstrated his skill at the plate.

Facing the Woodpeckers’ right-handed starter Nivaldo Rodriguez, it would be Gonzalez who would initiate the Hillcats offense. Coming to bat in the first inning, Gonzalez faced a situation that he had seen frequently during the Lynchburg season – two runners on base. Both leadoff hitter Gabriel Mejia and Nolan Jones had walked. Gonzalez ripped a searing line drive double to right-center field, which drove in both Mejia and Jones and staked Lynchburg to a lead that they would never relinquish.

The only blemish was Gonzalez getting trapped off of second when the relay throw overshot the cutoff man and was fielded by Jonathan Arauz, the Fayetteville third baseman, who caught Gonzalez in a run down. He would finish the day with a .500 effort at the plate, later lacing a sharp single to right field.

Learning is a constant endeavor for Gonzalez. Not only is he developing his baseball skills on the field, and through rigorous practice, he immerses himself in a new environment each season, one very different from the one of his youth in the Dominican Republic.

“It’s different here [the U.S.]. There are so many more people, which makes it hard,” said Gonzalez, “but I don’t have too much difficulty. I just go to the field and don’t think about anything else but baseball.”

Even though 99% of his focus is on the game and improving enough to earn a promotion to AA Akron, Gonzalez has other interests. He enjoys fishing and the beach, two activities that were in plentiful supply in his hometown right on the Caribbean, but that are much more difficult to find in the Carolina League.

Keep an eye out for Oscar Gonzalez. His 6’4” 180 lb. frame gives him a presence at home plate, and may soon make him a fixture on prospect lists.

“It’s just going to be a matter of time for him to apply it and to transition it to the game,” said coach Narron about the hard work Gonzalez has done to improve his hitting.

As he makes adjustments to the challenges of baseball, sit back and enjoy the ride as Gonzalez makes the most of his natural talent.

Photo: Lindsay Carico/Lynchburg Hillcats

David Freier was born in Brooklyn New York in 1966 less than a decade after the Dodgers had departed the very same borough. His first professional baseball game was at Yankee stadium and to this day he and his father still argue over who started for the Orioles that day (his father says Mike Cuellar, while he insists it was Jim Palmer). Being a lover of underdogs he naturally became a Mets fan. He grew up in Montclair New Jersey which had the advantage of being home to two baseball legends, Yogi Berra and Larry Doby, as well as having a local college which regularly held baseball card conventions that fed his baseball card hobby. While attending college at the University of Richmond he and some of his friends attended a Richmond Braves game in the then (1985) brand new Diamond stadium, and now home to the Richmond Flying Squirrels. This began what has become a passion for the minor leagues of baseball. During his 10 years as a Richmond resident he and his future wife developed an affinity for the Braves, especially when Richmond fan favorite Francisco Cabrera scored the winning run to knock the Pirates from contention and vault the Braves into the World Series of 1991. During extensive travels he has rooted for the Minnesota Twins, Minneapolis Loons, St. Paul Saints, Iowa Cubs, Philadelphia Phillies, Erie Sea Wolves, Berkshire Bears and of course the Lynchburg Hillcats. To date he has visited over 110 different baseball parks in which he has seen a game. He joined the Society for American Baseball Research in 2000 and has been a member ever since, where he participates on the Biographical and Minor Leagues committees when time permits. In his day job he is an Associate Professor of Biomedical Science at Lynchburg College in Virginia.

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