Minor Leagues: Esmailyn Gonzalez

Healthy Gonzalez here, ready to go

VIERA, Fla. -- After weeks of visa problems, shortstop Esmailyn Gonzalez arrived in Minor League camp on Thursday. He took his physical on the same day and is expected to play in an accelerated camp game on Friday.

In his first professional season, Gonzalez, 18, played with a lot of nagging injuries and hit .245 with 11 RBIs for the Gulf Coast Nationals. He did, however, put up a .382 on-base percentage.

"You look at him one day and he wasn't swinging very good, but he would have a walk and double in the corner. He picks the ball up pretty good," said assistant general manager Bob Boone.

Gonzalez is two weeks behind schedule, and Boone is hoping that he improved his game while he was in the Dominican Republic.

"I've heard he has been working out in the Dominican program, so I'm hoping that he comes in pretty close to the same pace that [the other] guys came in," Boone said.

General manager Jim Bowden hinted that Gonzalez most likely will have an extended Spring Training and then go to Class A Hagerstown by the second half of the season.

"When you are in the teenage years, we expect [you] to progress," Bowden said. "I was pleased with his performance last year. His range continues to improve.

"We need to keep him healthy all year. I would love to see him at Hagerstown by the end of the year. I think that would be a good accomplishment if he can do that. I hate to rush teenagers. I've never believed in it."

When Gonzalez was signed on July 2, 2006, the Nationals compared his glove with Ozzie Smith's, and they believe he could potentially have the bat of a Jose Vidro.

Gonzalez, whose nickname is "Smiley," was discovered two years ago by Jose Rijo, the team's special assistant to the general manager.

Name in the game: Steve McCatty had a decent career as a right-handed pitcher with the Athletics in the 1980s. Now, according to current pitchers, he is a quality pitching coach for Triple-A Columbus. He is one of the reasons why such pitchers as Tim Redding and Micah Bowie were able to make it back to the big leagues.

"He brings the fundamentals of pitching into his discussions when he tries to correct your flaws," said Redding, who ended up being one of the Nationals' best pitchers during the second half of the season. "He tries to help you get back to where your production level should be."

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During the offseason, Redding visited McCatty in Michigan to talk about pitching. During a bullpen session, McCatty noticed that Redding was landing too softly on his front leg. Redding fixed the problem and has pitched three shutout innings this spring.

They're No. 1: Right-hander Colton Willems, who was drafted in the first round of the 2006 First-Year Player Draft, put up impressive numbers during his second season in professional baseball. In 12 starts for Class A Vermont, he won three games and had a 1.84 ERA.

But Willems, who said the stats are misleading, was not happy that his velocity went down to the low 90s and that his mechanics were shaky. In fact, he was seen working on his mechanics at the team's training complex on Thursday.

"I'm putting in some extra work and trying to get some results," Willems said. "The numbers were good and everything, but my throwing was not perfect. I'm hoping this year, once I get everything down, I [will] be even better."

Boone expects Willems' velocity to go up once he matures as a pitcher.

"He looks like a guy on a mission," Boone said. "[Compared with his high school days], his velocity is down, but that is not unusual. A lot of times, it helps you, because you learn how to pitch [instead of being a thrower]. He had a really great year."

Class of '07: Right-hander Adrian Alani, taken in the eighth round, already has had an impact on the farm system. He was sent to Class A Vermont, where he went 8-2 with 2.39 ERA. In 60 1/3 innings, he walked only eight batters while striking out 62.

Alaniz, 23, feels that he was successful in his first season in pro ball because he learned how to pitch at the University of Texas.

"We had a great team," Alaniz said. "All the fundamentals that we did there kind of carried over into this Vermont team. Everything fell into place. It was a perfect situation to be in."

Alaniz most likely will go to Hagerstown to start the 2008 season.

Stat machine: Pitcher Shairon Martis led the Nationals' Minor League system in wins last year, with 14.

What they're saying: "That's a double whoa." -- Boone, on Gonzalez arriving at camp late because of visa issues

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.