Gonzalez began with pocket of quarters

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- He was the team's No. 1 draft pick, the first player chosen in the country, and already 18-year-old Adrian Gonzalez was in trouble with his manager, Kevin Boles, because of how he was spending his free time.

His offense?

"I heard he was going to the town's batting cages at night and throwing quarters in the machines to get extra swings,'' Boles said at Red Sox spring training Thursday, smiling as he recalled how he had to summon Gonzalez for a little heart-to-heart chat.

"I told him, 'Hey, you gotta understand, we have to get our work done here at the field and get your swings in here.' But that's the kind of work ethic he had. This is a kid who was a worker from Day 1.''

Boles, who this winter was named manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Red Sox Double-A affiliate in the Eastern League, was a 25-year-old rookie manager in the Florida Marlins' system in 2000 when he took over their Gulf Coast League rookie team. His first baseman was Gonzalez, freshly signed from Eastlake High School in Chula Vista, Calif. His shortstop was a 16-year-old kid from Venezuela, Miguel Cabrera, now the slugging first baseman for the Detroit Tigers.

"When you saw those guys on the field, the same club, it was, 'Oh my goodness, we have two franchise players right here,''' Boles said.

Before the end of 2003, Gonzalez and Boles were both gone from the Marlins, new ownership trading Gonzalez to the Texas Rangers in a deal for closer Ugueth Urbina, Boles going to the Kansas City Royals for another minor league managing job. Wednesday, when Gonzalez was among the early arrivals in Red Sox camp, they were reunited.

"He was a very thin kid when he came to the GCL, maybe 175 pounds,'' Boles said. "Now you look at him, he looks a little taller and he's filled out.''

Gonzalez came out Wednesday while Boles was throwing batting practice to take a few ground balls and observed that Boles was still throwing what he called a "Little League changeup.''

"My arm, when I was in rookie ball, I could hardly throw,'' Boles said. "I didn't know it at the time, but I had a torn labrum in my shoulder. I threw like that for years. I'd just lob it in. 'Little League changeup' was a compliment at the time. It was a 'poof' ball, but they never complained. But he definitely reminded me of that.''

Boles recalls Gonzalez as a "very humble kid with a quiet demeanor" when he first reported to the Marlins.

"Here was a guy who had a lot thrown at him,'' Boles said. "He bumped up his draft status quite a bit. He was supposed to be, I believe, a late first-rounder, but his senior year in Chula Vista he really advanced quite a bit. Dave Finley [the former Marlins scout now with the Red Sox] and the scouting department did a tremendous job getting him. But the way he handled the pressure, the way he handled himself, he was advanced all the way around.''

Gonzalez did not hit a home run in 193 at-bats for Boles in the GCL before being promoted to Utica in the short-season Class A New York-Penn League.

"He was more to left-center,'' Boles said. "There were a couple of days where I'd say, 'Hey, I'd like to see you pull a ball.' He said, 'OK.' It was in there. All of a sudden, he'd hit a few balls to his pull field.

"You could see the potential was there. We weren't concerned about that. The quality approach he had, his ability to work to all fields, the advanced approach he had, his knowledge of the strike zone, you just don't see out of 18-year-old kids like that. Defensively, it was the same way.

"You watched him, and you could only dream about what he was going to be like in five or six years. He's turned out to be a great player.''

In his fourth season with the Red Sox, Boles has advanced through the system, from Greenville in the low Class A South Atlantic League to the Sea Dogs. He has had one player, he said, who reminds him of Gonzalez: Anthony Rizzo, the first baseman the Red Sox traded to San Diego as part of the package for Gonzalez.

Rizzo began last season with Boles in Salem, was promoted to Portland in May and hit 20 home runs
in just 107 games for the Sea Dogs, even though he didn't turn 21 until Aug. 8. Gonzalez was 20 in 2002 when he played for Portland, then a Marlins affiliate, and hit 17 home runs.

"Rizzo reminds me a lot of Adrian Gonzalez -- I was just talking to Adrian about that today,'' Boles said. "Rizzo is a bigger kid and has a little more power, Adrian is a little more of a contact hitter, but they had very similar styles of play.

"It's kind of weird. We thought very highly of Anthony Rizzo. He's going to be a heck of a player.''

The Sox gave up promise in Rizzo for promise fulfilled in Gonzalez, once the kid with the pocketful of quarters.

"Watching him on TV play on a major league field and excel,'' Boles said, "it's been fun to watch.''

Gordon Edes is ESPNBoston.com's Red Sox reporter. He has covered the Red Sox for 12 years and has reported on baseball for 25 years. Ask a question for his next mailbag here.