Luis Gonzalez has given Giants surprising Rookie of Year contender:

Consistent Gonzalez emerges as surprise ROY contender for Giants originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayarea

PHILADELPHIA – When the Giants took the field on Tuesday night, they had their first-round picks from 2017 and 2018 in the lineup. Joey Bart has been one of the best catching prospects in baseball since the moment the Giants took him second overall, and Heliot Ramos is one of the game’s top outfield prospects.

It was absolutely no surprise that the Giants had a potential Rookie of the Year frontrunner on the field on the last day of May. But it wasn’t either of the top prospects hitting back-to-back in their lineup.

With the season nearly one third of the way done, Luis Gonzalez leads MLB rookies in batting average (.337), ranks second in OPS (.845) and trails only Chicago Cubs outfielder Seiya Suzuki in RBI (19) among first-year NL players. He ranks third among the league’s rookie position players in fWAR (0.6), behind only Washington Nationals catcher Keibert Ruiz and Suzuki.

Gonzalez was hitless in Wednesday’s game but had a career-high four hits the night before, pushing his average to .347 through the end of May. That was the highest by a Giants rookie since the team moved to San Francisco.

Not bad for a player who was optioned back to Triple-A when the veterans on the roster briefly all got healthy in the middle of May.

“It’s exciting. The more track record he has, the longer this stretch of good performance goes, the more dependable he becomes, the more likely it is that we have not just a fill-in outfielder this year while LaMonte Wade Jr. is down but a guy that we can count on going forward, “manager Gabe Kapler said. “And not just in 2022, but in years to come. It’s fun to kind of get lost in those thoughts for a little bit and think about what might be, if we have a regular Major League outfielder on our hands in Luis Gonzalez.”

Right now at least, the Giants do. Gonzalez was optioned for four days in the middle of May, but since returning when Wade went back on the IL, he has started 10 of 12 games. That has given the 26-year-old, acquired last year in a savvy move, an opportunity to continue to prove himself, and he’s running with it just as Mike Yastrzemski and Wade did before him.

“Over this month and a half that I’ve been up, I think I’ve kind of been feeling established, like I’m a big leaguer and I can be an everyday starter for whichever club it is, and right now it’s the Giants, “he said Wednesday. “I’m just thankful. I love this team. This team has made it easier for me to go out there and perform at my best and feel comfortable up there.”

Gonzalez said the comfort level has allowed him to focus on sticking to his strengths. In a lot of ways, his story mirrors Wade’s, right down to the optioning back to the minors that angered the fan base and the subsequent quick call-up. Kapler smiled as he compared the two Wednesdays, saying he sees the similarities between Wade’s 2021 and Gonzalez’s 2022, but thinks the “profiles are just so different.”

“Both are left-handed corner outfielders that can play center field if needed, but their at-bats feel a little bit different,” he said. “It feels like LaMonte was more of what we’ve come to expect from a Giants player: Very disciplined in looking over the baseball, with some swing-and-miss but the ability to drive the ball to the pull side. Not that Luis does not have those things as well (but) Luis feels more like a throwback 80s hitter.

“Use the whole field, slap the ball down the left field line, some ground balls that get through the hole, a bunt base hit, maybe a .300 hitter. Yeah, he just looks a little bit more like a throwback.”

Gonzalez’s four-hit game showed off the whole package. His first hit, a double, came on a sinker that he went with and smacked the other way down the left field line. The next time up, he yanked 97 mph into the right field corner, giving the Giants the lead. Three innings later, he found a hole on the right side for a single, and with the Giants rallying in the 10th, he laid down a good bunt and used his speed to beat it out.

That one particularly pleased Kapler, who has preached since spring training that Giants hitters need to keep pressure on opposing defenses.

“I’m not trying to overdo it,” Gonzalez said. “I’ve noticed that when I do kind of get in trouble and I’m not barreling up the ball it’s when I’m trying to overdo it and trying to get pull happy and I’m trying harder than just letting the game come to me.

“I think a lot of success is letting the game come to me and taking what pitchers are giving me and being able to execute on the outside of the strike zone as well as reacting to inside pitches.”

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Gonzalez has done it better than most, putting himself near the top of this rookie crop, although it’s far too early to seriously think of any trophies. San Diego Padres starter Mackenzie Gore (1.71 ERA) would be the frontrunner right now, and other top prospects will pop up over the course of the summer, like St. Louis’ Nolan Gorman, who burst on the scene late last month with a 1,150 OPS in his first 10 games.

Any Gonzalez case has another hurdle, too. Steven Duggar starts a rehab assignment Thursday and Wade is working his way back from knee soreness. When both are healthy, the Giants will again be in a tough roster crunch, and those with minor league options remaining may find themselves on the outside no matter how well they’re playing. Duggar is the best best defensive center fielder at a time when defense has been a serious proplem, and Wade should go back to the top of the lineup whenever he’s ready.

These things tend to settle themselves through other injuries or other roster moves, and right now there’s no reason for Gonzalez to worry. He has been one of the few consistent hitters in a lineup that has wild swings from day to day, and with the season moving into a third month, that approach has given the Giants one of the National League’s best rookies.

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