It’s the top of the seventh inning and San Francisco ace Logan Webb is setting himself for his next pitch. Webb is in the midst of a gem; he hasn’t given up a run to the resilient Royals and his Giants teammates have gifted him a 3-0 lead. He’s in some danger now though, with runners at first and second. With two outs and keen to escape the inning unscathed, Webb checks the runner at second base. There stands Kansas City’s young catcher MJ Melendez, taking a cautious lead as Webb eyes him suspiciously.
Content that Melendez isn’t about to steal third, Webb turns and quickly uncorks a nasty slider at Michael Taylor, the Royals’ centre fielder. The pitch is low and away but catches more of the zone than Webb would like, and Taylor stings the ball towards right field.
Second baseman Thairo Estrada has no chance on the play but the right fielder makes a perfect read of the situation, and is charging in with serious speed.
Luis González knows exactly what he’s going to do.
The rookie fields the ball cleanly on one hop and his body is already coiling like a spring, ready to explode the ball toward home plate. González only has eyes for Melendez, who is unwisely rounding third base at the urging of his coach.
González releases the ball at a ridiculous 97.4 mph, directly at his catcher Austin Wynns. The 31-year-old backstop (who had been on the team less than a week) somehow picks it cleanly on the bounce and puts the tag on a stunned Melendez. The Kansas City man is out by a mile, his awkward slide to the plate already acknowledging defeat. González got his man, Wynns gestures to right field and bangs his chest in recognition, and Webb is out of the inning with no damage done.
This is just one example of the Luis González experience, coming to a ballpark near you this summer.
Luis Gonzalez's 97.4 MPH assist was the 2nd-fastest by a @SFGiants player in the Statcast era.
— MLB Stats (@MLBStats) June 15, 2022
Where did González come from and how did he rise from the unknown to become an NL Rookie of the Year contender?
In classic Giants fashion, González was snatched off waivers from the White Sox in August 2021 whilst recovering from shoulder surgery. San Francisco managed to keep hold of him despite an offseason roster-crunch that risked the outfielder being plucked away by another MLB team. Thankfully González went unclaimed and stayed with the organisation on a minor-league deal instead of pursuing free agency.
Even with the lockout-shortened preparations this year, González was unphased and performed well in spring training, putting himself among the Giants’ most productive hitters. He didn’t make the Giants’ Opening Day roster but González kept his head up, and a torrid start at Triple-A Sacramento meant he soon found a deserved home in the Giants clubhouse by April 22nd.
González has made it his mission to stay there ever since and the early results have been impressive.
Among Giants players with at least 70 at-bats, González currently leads the club with a .302 batting average, and is second on the team with a .808 OPS and 127 OPS+ (trailing only Joc Pederson, San Francisco’s likely 2022 All-Star selection). González has shown remarkable patience at the plate for a rookie and his swing is consistently spraying the ball to all fields. The power is beginning to show signs of development too; so far it’s been more doubles than home runs but the Giants won’t complain if they’re getting regular extra-base hits from the 26-year-old.
When he’s not gunning down runners with his cannon of an arm, González has displayed solid defence in the outfield, using his speed and relentless energy to track down opponent’s would-be hits. That energy translates to his base running as well, where his hustle has helped create multiple runs that the older, veteran Giants could not. Sure, the rookie’s overenthusiasm has run himself into the occasional and unfortunate out but those mistakes are expected, and acceptable at this stage of his career. Overall, González has been the excellent all-around player every ballclub would wish for.
What are his chances of taking home the NL Rookie of the Year silverware?
Admittedly, González does face stiff competition. Three pitchers in the league have all gotten off to imposing starts: Hunter Greene, Spencer Strider and MacKenzie Gore have all shown their quality in the majors. Brendan Donovan, Nolan Gorman and Seiya Suzuki are González’s primary position player adversaries, as the trio have all performed well in 2022 thus far.
And yet, González got off to the best possible start in the month of May, taking home the National League Rookie of the Month award. González put on a show over 23 appearances, batting .368 with a .410 OBP, .910 OPS, 1 home run, 7 doubles, 13 RBI and 3 stolen bases. González became just the third Giant to win the award, following Pedro Feliz (July 2001) and Buster Posey (July 2010).
Bend the knee for King Luis 👑
— SFGiants (@SFGiants) June 3, 2022
Perhaps the biggest immediate threat to his chances of taking home the overall award is another roster problem the Giants must try and solve. González, one of the few Giants players with a minor league option remaining, is at risk because LaMonte Wade Jr. and Steven Duggar are both about to complete recent rehab assignments. The clubhouse is about to find itself very cramped so a decision must be made – someone will be left out in the cold.
If I had to guess, I think Duggar will be the odd man out. Wade proved his worth so often in 2021 and hasn’t gotten a chance this season due to his nagging injuries. González has been a revelation, and would feel very hard done by to receive an undeserved demotion back to Triple-A. Duggar is a superb defensive player, probably the best centre fielder on the roster, but his struggles at the plate hold him back in comparison to Wade and González. Duggar’s 2021 campaign was his best offensive season yet but I think it’s unlikely to be enough when push comes to shove. Hopefully the Giants can work things out to keep all three men on the team in a satisfactory manner.
Once again it appears the Giants have struck gold with a previously unheralded prospect, plucked off the scrap heap, and polished into another diamond. In 2019 it was Mike Yastrzemski. In 2021 it was Wade.
González has shown himself to be this year’s model, and maybe he could be the best yet.
Ash Day is the San Francisco Giants writer for Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @AshDay29
Photo credit for featured image by Brandon Sloter/Getty Images