PAWTUCKET — Looks like American League has a new big bopper to lose sleep over. Yet as teams start assembling scouting reports on newly-minted Red Sox acquisition Adrian Gonzalez, perhaps they would be wise to consult pitchers Rich Hill and Chad Paronto, both of whom toiled for Pawtucket last season.
Granted, neither Hill nor Paronto own a lengthy history with Gonzalez – according to thebaseballcube.com, Gonzalez is 4-for-7 with two homers off Hill while off Paronto the slugging first baseman has one hit in two at-bats. However, the sample size is sufficient enough for the hurlers to draw the same conclusion that everyone else seems to have. The left-handed hitting Gonzalez is a big time run producer who possesses the ability to anchor the heart of any club’s lineup for years to come. Oh, the 28-year-old is also a proven Gold Glove defender.
“If he (Gonzalez) can hit the ball to the opposite field out of PETCO Park, he is going to destroy that Green Monster,” said Paronto, who along with Hill spent Saturday signing autographs and posing for pictures at the PawSox’ annual Christmas Party at McCoy Stadium. “I’m not an advanced scout, but he’s just a stud. Boston is going to love him and he gets to come to a contender.”
As of late Sunday afternoon the trade appeared in jeopardy after Boston and Gonzalez failed to work out a long-term deal before their MLB-sanctioned time to negotiate elapsed. The Red Sox can still sign off on the trade with an eye towards extending Gonzalez at a later date, a maneuver the organization did upon acquiring Pedro Martinez from Montreal in 1997. The Sox eventually signed Martinez to a six-year pact.
Hill, who told Blackstone Valley Sports that he’s returning to the Boston organization in 2011, recalls one of the homers Gonzalez victimized him for. It was May 22, 2007, and the pitcher and hitter engaged in an eight-pitch sequence that culminated with Gonzalez hooking the ball around the 322-foot marker down the right-field line in PETCO Park.
“I think (San Diego’s home park) did hurt him sometimes, but he’s proven that he can hit the long ball and drive in runs,” said Hill, making the case that PETCO’s cavernous dimensions impeded Gonzalez from putting up even greater offensive numbers. “In that respect he ranks up there with the best.”
The Hill-Gonzalez confrontations were lefty vs. lefty, an area where Gonzalez made noticeable strides last season, batting .337 with an on-base percentage of .424. In 2006, Gonzalez’s first year as a fulltime starter with San Diego, he hit at a .312 clip against left-handed pitching. His average dipped over the next three seasons – .263 in 2007, .213 in 2008 and .234 in 2009 – before enjoying a breakout campaign against southpaws in 2010.
“He doesn’t seem to be phased by much, whether the count is 0-2 or 3-2 with runners on second and third. It’s a guy who you can see comes through in the clutch,” said Hill. “Every time I faced him I just remember him being a great hitter and a tough out.”
Paronto shared memories of a different Gonzalez. From 2004-05, the two were combatants in the Pacific Coast League; Paronto pitching for Memphis and Nashville while Gonzalez was in Oklahoma, the Triple-A affiliate of Texas. The Rangers traded Gonzalez to San Diego in Jan. 2006 after combining for 30 homers and 153 RBI in two seasons with Oklahoma.
“He was always a big-time prospect, someone you had to be careful with. Just like any young player there are going to be ups and downs until they get to where they need to be, especially with hitters,” recalled Paronto. “Once it clicks they take off. He’s blossomed into the player everyone thought he would be.”
In order to play the trading game in which both parties walk away feeling good, you need to give in order to get. To land a player of Gonzalez’s caliber, the Red Sox had to part ways with three of the club’s top prospects: shortstop-turned-pitcher Casey Kelly, first baseman Anthony Rizzo, who reached 20 homers and 100 RBI between stops at Single and Double-A last season, and a stolen base threat in outfielder Reymond Fuentes.
“Boston is looking for a guy who can make an impact right now while San Diego is looking towards the future,” Hill said. “I think it’s a great move for both teams.”
While the Gonzalez watch remains a hot topic in New England, the Red Sox quietly made a move that could go a long way in fine-tuning the long/middle relief corps next season. Hill said he reached an agreement with the organization five weeks ago and has been working out at Fenway Park three times a week.
“I’m looking forward to returning,” said Hill, who signed a minor-league deal with Boston in late June. “I had good talks with (Red Sox GM) Theo (Epstein) about the opportunity that’s there for next season. I think it’s very good.”
Hill began his pro career in the starting rotation before elbow and shoulder problems necessitated a move to the bullpen. He still possesses the ability to make a start on occasion, but it’s clear the Red Sox view Hill as someone who can contribute as a reliever. He figures to be one of several arms competing for a bullpen spot during spring training.
As for Paronto, the veteran is still awaiting word on where he will pitch in 2011. Last season with Pawtucket made a team-best 54 appearances, going 3-5 with a 4.22 ERA.
“Obviously this is where I want to come back to,” said Paronto. “It’s a great situation and I loved it here. Plus I feel there’s an opportunity in the bullpen.”