Many observers maintain that hitting a baseball is the single most difficult feat in high-level athletics. This explains why hitters who fail “only” seven out of 10 at-bats are considered stars.
Top-flight pitchers are valued even more than most .300 hitters. And when your best pitcher is a projected first-round draft pick who hits well above .300 ... well, the Gonzaga Bulldogs, now ranked 24th in the country by Baseball America, consider themselves quite fortunate to have Marco Gonzales.
Never heard of the guy? Such is the fate of the vast majority of college baseball players, who are overshadowed at most schools by football and/or basketball players. Area sports fans would be wise to take a peek at Gonzales while they can. The junior left-hander plans to turn pro as a pitcher this summer — ESPN ranks him the 22nd-best prospect in the June amateur draft — and he’s putting up crazy-good numbers for the third straight year at Gonzaga.
“He’s got the heart of a lion,” says teammate, roommate and close friend Payden Cawley Lamb. “He really battles for everybody, and then he can come and get four hits when he pitches.”
Gonzales, a first-team All-American last season and a preseason first-team All-American this season, is a prime candidate to win the CollegeBaseballInsider.com Utility Player of the Year award for the second straight year.
“I compete and I battle as a hitter,” Gonzales says, “and I have my streaks and my moments, but I’m definitely more consistent on the mound.”
The Fort Collins, Colo., native entered the week with a 4-2 record, 2.71 earned-run average, 60 strikeouts and 57 hits allowed in 63 innings. At the plate, he leads the Bulldogs with a .350 batting average and is second with a .408 on-base percentage.
“About 99 percent of it is luck,” Gonzales says with a smile.
Gonzales, who raves about his time at Gonzaga, throws a superb change-up and a fastball that has been clocked as high as 92 mph. The son of a longtime minor league pitcher (“I was raised in clubhouses and on the bus”), Gonzales posted a 3-0 record and hit .250 last summer for USA Baseball’s collegiate national team.
Interestingly, Gonzaga was the only school that wanted Gonzales to hit in college. He says only three other schools (including perennial national powerhouse Arizona State) offered him a scholarship, and only the Bulldogs offered him a full ride.
“It was a bit humbling,” Gonzales admits.
Gonzales’ size and velocity were so-so in high school, but he won the state title game all four years and was Colorado’s high school baseball player of the year as a senior. He went 11-0 on the mound and hit .486 that season, and the Colorado Rockies selected him in the 29th round of the 2010 draft.
“He came in with quite a lot of accolades,” Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf says, “and he was humble right from the start. He’s continued to rack up awards and attention. The most impressive thing is how he’s handled it. He’s a great teammate.”
Gonzaga baseball homestand • Washington (April 23-24) and Brigham Young (April 25-27) • All games at 6 pm except for 1 pm on Sat, April 27 • $5, $4/ages 3-12 and 65 and older • Free for children 2 and under