With the MLB amateur draft just over a couple months away, it’s time to start looking at some potential targets for the Kansas City Royals. The Royals will have the eighth overall pick in this year’s draft. Today we’ll look at the first of several draft prospects that will likely fall around that range. The first such player we will look at is Ole Miss shortstop Jacob Gonzalez.
Gonzalez played prep ball at Glendora High School in Glendora, CA. He racked up the accolades in an impressive high school career, earning All-League honors each year, as well as being named Perfect Game Underclassman All-American thrice and Perfect Game All-Region First Team in 2020. Gonzalez also played quarterback all four years for Glendora’s football team and was two-time All-League in that sport as well. In something that will be a running theme in these write-ups, Gonzalez had his senior season cut short by the Covid-19 pandemic and went unselected in the truncated 2020 MLB draft.
Arriving on campus in Oxford that fall, Gonzalez quickly began turning heads in scrimmages. With previous shortstop Anthony Servideo going in the third round the prior summer, somebody needed to step up at short for the Rebels. Gonzalez proved up to the challenge. Taking over as the starting shortstop from day one, Gonzalez homered in the second game of the season and reached base thrice in the next. He started at shortstop in all of Ole Miss’s 67 games that spring.
The Rebels had a good enough season to host a Regional in the NCAA Tournament. Gonzalez recorded a hit and a walk in all four Regional games as Ole Miss advanced. He was even better in the Tucson Super Regional, going 5-for-13 with three doubles, two homers, and two walks, but the Rebels fell in three games to Arizona. Gonzalez finished his freshman season hitting .355/.443/.561 with 16 doubles, 12 homers, and 38 walks to 34 strikeouts in 310 plate appearances. His efforts earned him National Freshman of the Year and Second-Team All-American honors.
Expectations were high for Gonzalez and Ole Miss in 2022 and they came out of the gates strong, winning their first nine games. Gonzalez reached base 22 times in that stretch. As conference play started, however, both Gonzalez and the Rebels struggled. The low point was a sweep at home at the hands of Tennessee in which Gonzalez went 0-12. Ole Miss managed to stay afloat and do just enough the rest of the way to barely squeak into the NCAA Tournament.
As the #3 seed in the Coral Gables Regional, Ole Miss opened the tournament facing the team that knocked them out of the 2021 tournament: Arizona. History did not repeat as Gonzalez went yard in a game that Ole Miss won 7-4, sparking a run for the ages. The Rebels went 3-0 to win the Coral Gables Regional, swept Southern Miss in the Hattiesburg Super Regional, then lost just one game in Omaha to capture the first title in program history. In the clinching game against Oklahoma, Gonzalez went yard as part of a 3-4 game.
In tournament play, Gonzalez went 12-46 with two homers and five walks. His overall numbers took a bit of a step back from 2021 largely due to a 123-point drop in BABIP, but he offset that somewhat by walking more often and turning some of those doubles into homers. He finished 2022 with a line of .273/.405/.558 with nine doubles, 18 homers, and 50 walks to just 32 strikeouts. He earned First-Team All-SEC honors.
In 2023, expectations were once again high in Oxford for Ole Miss and Gonzalez. They raced out to a 14-3 start in non-conference play with Gonzalez starting the season with an 11-game hit streak, which ended with an 0-2 with three walks against Nebraska. Unfortunately for the Rebels, as with Mississippi State the year prior, their title defense went off the rails in conference play. Ole Miss has gone just 5-16 in SEC play and will likely miss the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017.
For his part, Gonzalez has been excellent. He’s struck somewhat of a balance between his freshman and sophomore results, recovering some of that batting average he had as a freshman while losing some of the home run power he showed as a sophomore. As of the end of play May 1, Gonzalez is hitting .315/.442/.562 with 16 doubles, eight homers, and more walks (32) than punchouts (27).
Jacob Gonzalez with a moon shot for homer no. ️pic.twitter.com/vyps8EHVAf— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) March 31, 2023
With how consistent his college career has been, Gonzalez has generally hung around the same range on prospect lists since the start of last season. Here are his latest rankings from various publications:
MLB Pipeline: 8
Keith Law ($): 3
Kiley McDaniel ($): 5
Baseball America ($): 8
Gonzalez has long demonstrated a mature approach at the plate with 27 more walks than strikeouts as a college player. To do so against SEC pitching is impressive, as is his ability to consistently put the bat on the ball. He has at least average raw power and his approach allows him to access it fairly regularly. His power is mostly pull-side and, if 2023 is any indication, he’ll be more of a doubles-hitter than a true slugger.
Defensively, Gonzalez has solid instincts and good hands at shortstop to go with an above-average arm.
The FRESHMAN Jacob Gonzalez!! pic.twitter.com/dCK4iBppk8— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) June 6, 2021
He’ll likely be able to stick at shortstop but that’s not a consensus opinion. Gonzalez does not move well out of the batter’s box or on the bases as he has been successful on just six of 14 stolen base attempts at Ole Miss. In the field, his long strides and rhythm help compensate for his lack of footspeed.
So we have a probable shortstop with a strong track record at the highest level of amateur baseball that Law describes as “the safest of the players in the next tier” behind Dylan Crews and Wyatt Langford. What’s the downside? The general consensus with Gonzalez is solid tools across the board without a standout skill. A guy with 50-grade tools across the board is a solid prospect, but pretty unlikely to be a star in the majors. He’s probably a 40 runner, but if the other offensive tools are closer to 55, then he could be something like Willy Adames.
Some evaluators are also concerned about his swing mechanics. He has a tendency to step in the bucket, opening up his hips early and coming disconnected from his shoulders. That hasn’t been a problem even against premium college stuff, but it’s definitely something to note.
Ole Miss SS Jacob Gonzalez is off to a hot start. Slashing .342/.485/.570 entering tonight, this shot being his 5th HR of the year. Unconventional swing. The topic of conversation in many circles. Hips/shoulders disconnected through the ball. But it works!pic.twitter.com/Hqi1Ra84aM— Joe Doyle (@JoeDoyleMiLB) March 22, 2023
One more nit to pick: Gonzalez hasn’t had the type of excellent draft year one generally likes to see from a top-10 prospect. He’s posted almost identical rate stats to his freshman season despite college baseball in 2023 being an extremely high-offense environment. He’s likely behind Florida’s Josh Rivera and perhaps South Carolina’s Braylen Wimmer in the All-SEC shortstop pecking order. He’s still been excellent, but the fact he hasn’t really improved over three seasons of SEC baseball is at least a bit disheartening. Granted, that could be what ultimately allows him to slide down to Kansas City at eight.
What do you think of Jacob Gonzalez at #8?
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