(Editor's note: The following is excerpted from a Gordon Edes story on Adrian Gonzalez from March.)
FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In Dave Magadan's last season as hitting coach of the San Diego Padres, Adrian Gonzalez almost didn't make the team.
Gonzalez was 23 and new to the Padres in 2006, having just been acquired from the Texas Rangers, where his progress was blocked by Mark Teixeira. He missed part of spring training while playing for Mexico, his parents' homeland, in the World Baseball Classic, and when he returned to camp, the expectation was that incumbent Ryan Klesko would be the team's first baseman.
Gonzalez, it appeared, was headed back to Triple-A for his fourth straight season in his third organization, having been drafted by Florida and traded to Texas for Ugueth Urbina, the closer who helped the Marlins win the 2003 World Series.
But then Klesko went on the disabled list with a shoulder injury that required surgery, and Gonzalez had his chance. He had two hits in the Padres' season opener and three more hits (including a home run) the next day, and was on his way to permanently altering the perception that he was a glove-first, bat-second first baseman.
"I noticed from the first day I threw batting practice to him, it didn't matter where you threw the ball, he found a way to get the barrel on it," Magadan said. "The hierarchy was a little concerned with his ability to pull the ball. I didn't think it was an issue at all. I was a big fan from the get-go. I think he was a pleasant surprise for a lot of people there."
Gonzalez has blossomed into one of the premier young hitters in the game, in 2009 hitting a career-best 40 home runs despite playing his home games in Petco Park, a hitters' graveyard.
"I'm not surprised," Magadan said. "You see him swing the bat, it's poetry in motion, man. It's so fluid and easy, and he's got such good rhythm up there, the ball just jumps off his bat, especially the other way.
"He's got some kind of power the other way. His ball, when he hits it the other way, doesn't slice. It stays straight. He can hit those balls right down the line that, with a lot of lefties, kind of fade. His just stay straight."
Magadan was fired as Padres hitting coach that June, which has had little effect on improving the team's offense. The Padres scored 10 runs more in 2007 than they did in 2006, and in each of the past two seasons, despite the emergence of Gonzalez as a major power threat, they have finished last ('09) and next-to-last ('08) in the National League in runs scored.
But Magadan was with Gonzalez long enough for the player to have made a lasting impression.
"He's pretty impressive," Magadan said. "And he knows himself real well too. You have a conversation with him about his swing, he's right there with you. He's pretty knowledgeable about what he wants to do.
"He comes from a very good family, quality people, a high-character guy, a big family guy. He's kind of in a dream scenario, playing at home, making good money. He was a pleasure to be around, man."