Rangers organization report
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- For all his talent and for all his potential, there remains one big question about Rangers first-base prospect Adrian Gonzalez.
When will the top prospect in camp, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2000 First-Year Player Draft, make his Major League debut?
"Adrian knows the strike zone and he's excellent around the bag," Rangers assistant general manager Grady Fuson said. "He's mature in the way he goes about the game and the understanding about the game at a high level. There is very little to be concerned with. It's not 'if' -- it's just a matter of 'when' with Adrian."
Gonzalez, 21, could be headed for Triple-A Oklahoma to start the season, but is the only player on the roster who has the potential to push first baseman Mark Teixeira into the outfield with a strong Spring Training performance.
As a sign of his dedication, Gonzalez came into camp 15 pounds lighter and in top shape.
"I just want to play hard and hopefully put some good at-bats together out there," he said. "I just want to have fun and let things fall into place."
Drafted by the Marlins, Gonzalez hit .312 with 17 home runs and 103 RBIs in his first professional season in 2001 and followed that season by hitting .266 with 17 homers and 96 RBIs in 2002. He was on the fast track but an offseason surgery on his right wrist slowed him down.
Upon his return last season, he hit .216 with one home run in 39 games before being shipped from Triple-A Albuquerque to Double-A Carolina. He was eventually traded to Texas with Will Smith and Ryan Snare for Ugueth Urbina on July 11.
"He was the key member of the trade for us so that should tell you how we feel about him," Fuson said. "I definitely think he is ready for a big healthy year at Triple-A depending on where this club goes and depending on how he goes on about it. He could be ready at any time."
Gonzalez finished the season by hitting .283 with 17 RBIs and three home runs for Double-A Frisco. Overall, he combined to hit .269 with five home runs and 51 RBIs in 120 minor league games in 2003.
Those numbers might not be enough to land him a spot on the big-league roster when camp breaks. But a strong performance in camp could help when decision time comes.
"I'd like to see him have a dominant offensive year at a higher level," Fuson said. "Really, he has only had 180 at-bats at the Double-A level and certainly his playability for the game is Triple-A. We need time to measure his health and the strength of his hand. Everything else is clean."
Not known for his power at the moment, Gonzalez is proud of the fact that he hit 17 home runs in each of his first two minor league seasons. He's confident that more power will come with age and experience.
"I'm more of a line-drive hitter and I know that," Gonzalez said. "When I hit my home runs they are line drives that barely clear the fence and not high fly balls. I try to find the holes and try to create doubles, but I do have power."
Fuson is not worried.
"With most good young hitters, it's usually the last performing tool that plays out," Fuson said. "It's a combination of having the body to build up strength, putting together the wisdom they gained through the years of minor leagues, and understanding which pitch to cheat on."
Defensively, Gonzalez has impressed Rangers manager Buck Showalter with his instincts and ability.
"It's obvious he is a well above-average first baseman and you can tell he likes it," Showalter said. "He has great footwork. The thing that separates the good first basemen from the great ones is the ability to throw and that's impressive with him."
So the question remains.
Jesse Sanchez is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.