Ivan Gonzalez Again Proves Naysayers Wrong; Ready For First Pro Assignment
Ivan Gonzalez feels a certain bit of vindication, but he’s not going to let that get in the way of working to achieve more of his goals.
After an excellent high school baseball career, the five-foot-nine-inch catcher was passed over for scholarship offers by every Division I school in Texas, and the reason, not surprisingly, was his height. Many recruiting evaluations get caught up in physical measurements, and the Round Rock, Texas, native was filtered out by the fact that he wasn’t three or four inches taller.
He proved all those evaluators wrong with an outstanding all-around career at WVU, which included school career rankings in sacrifice flies (No. 3: 15), games played (No. 4: 211), fielding chances (No. 4: 1,498), putouts (No. 4: 1,291), starts ( No. 6: 199) and hits (T No. 8: 230). He hit nine home runs and had 108 RBIs with a .410 slugging percentage and a .374 on-base percentage. He hit .305 for his career.
Perhaps most impressively, he threw out 44% of the baserunners attempting to steal against him, with his quick release and on-target throws also accounting for numerous pickoffs. He worked on his bat control and plate discipline throughout his career, and finished with 81 walks, including 35 this year, which was the second highest on the team.
“I’m not your typical six-two, 230-pound catcher,” Gonzalez said when asked to reflect on his status as one of the best Mountaineer players at that position in history, and the resulting eighth round draft selection by the Chicago White Sox. “My parents asked me the same thing, after all I’ve accomplished, and I have had a chance to reflect for a few days. It’s been good to sit back.”
That’s not the usual state of affairs for Gonzalez, who is a living embodiment of the the term “grinder”. He worked throughout his career at West Virginia, sharpening his already prodigious defensive skills and working to become more selective at the plate, and in the background was that drumbeat of showing all those who passed on him during the recruiting process.
Fortunately, West Virginia did not, and was rewarded with a catcher that checked all the boxes — defense, hitting and handling of pitchers.
“It did hit me that not a lot of people thought I could do it, but now it’s just time to move on to the next chapter in my career. I’m going to keep working and doing that, and keep that chip on my shoulder. That’s what has helped drive me,” he explained.
That drive and work was rewarded with his high selection by the White Sox, who weren’t put off by his height. Rather, they saw the dozens of positives Gonzalez will bring to the organzation.
“They said my defense is what they really like, and that I can control the running game,” Gonzalez said of Chicago’s evaluation of him. “They also like the way I interact with the pitchers — I’m bilingual, so that helps. They’ve seen I can hit for average, and they said I’m a down and dirty ball player and a grinder.”
That last sentence might be the thing Gonzalez likes the most, as it plays right into his motivational wheelhouse. However, other items, such as pitching staff handling and interaction, also stand out. WVU head coach Randy Mazey discussed that topic when evaluating what Gonzalez has meant to the program, noting that it is the catcher’s job to ensure that a pitcher throws well, and that he has excelled in that role.
That, plus the defenisve efficiency, which included the success rate in throwing out baserunners and a total disregard for his body in blocking potential wild pitches, put Gonzalez in the upper echelon of catchers in the draft. One of the most valuable positions on the field, he was picked 15th out of the 103 catchers selected, and was one of 24 taken in the first ten rounds.
“I had an idea I was going, but not that high,” he said of his eighth-round call. “I knew I would get a shot to play, but not that early. I had gotten a call from the White Sox and a couple other teams that morning, but I didn’t think too much of it. As a senior I was more expecting to go on the last day of the draft. But then the White Sox called again and said ‘Are you ready to play?’ And I said ‘Wait, hold on, are you picking me?’ And they said yes.”
That set off a whirlwind of activity, including getting a contract squared away, celebrating with friends and family, packing up to depart Morgantown and making all the plans for he next steps.
“It’s been crazy but full of blessings,” said Gonzalez, who has never ducked an interview request and has always been a leader on the team, as a catcher needs to be. “I’m getting ready to fly to Arizona to get my contract signed and for the spring training they have for the draft picks and some others, and then I think I will be going to their advanced rookie league team in Montana, although I’m not sure about that yet.”
That team would be the Great Falls Voyagers, who play in the Pioneer League. Wherever Gonzalez lands, though, he’ll take that underdog mentality with him.
“[Getting drafted] just didn’t hit me a whole lot yet, because I am still hungry. I feel like I left a good legacy at WVU, but I’m not done yet. I have so much more to accomplish.”
As West Virginia discovered to its delight, and all those that passed on him out of high school to their dismay, it would not be wise to bet against him.