Monday, Matt Gonzalez was on his way to Orlando, Fla., and the Braves’ spring-training headquarters. Gonzalez, a base-hit machine for the past four years for Georgia Tech, was en route to undergo a physical and begin his professional baseball career as the Braves’ sixth-round pick.
“Being from Atlanta and going to school in Atlanta, it’s a dream come true to get to play for the hometown team,” said Gonzalez, a graduate of Harrison High in Cobb County.
Gonzalez signed his contract Sunday at Turner Field, then watched the Braves play the Cubs from the stands behind home plate.
Gonzalez finished his Tech career with a .318 batting average and 302 base hits, the most among active NCAA players and the third most in Tech history. He finished with a flourish, rebounding from a .285 average as a junior to hit .378 as a senior. He was named first-team All-ACC.
Gonzalez returned for his senior after not getting drafted as a junior. Gonzalez said teams passed him over after he made it clear that he would only sign for a certain signing bonus amount, one that teams were evidently unwilling to pay.
“Not getting drafted (as a junior) was probably the best thing that happened to me,” he said. “It made me change my approach.”
The decision did cost him his bargaining leverage. Players drafted as juniors can walk away from an offer and return for their senior season, but Gonzalez obviously did not have that option. Gonzalez received a $25,000 signing bonus, well below the slot value, as the Braves were essentially able to give him a take-it-or-leave-it offer.
It’s a common ploy for teams drafting seniors. In the 2015 draft, sixth-rounders received bonuses ranging from a high of $540,000 to a low of $10,000 for a college senior, according to Baseball America.
Said Gonzalez, “I was just happy to get picked up because I know I’m a senior. I was really out of options.”
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Gonzalez was drafted as a second baseman, a position he hasn’t played since his freshman season. He mostly played third base and left field at Tech. He thinks that he's going to be starting with the Danville (Va.) Braves, the team's rookie-league club in the Appalachian League.
“They told me they’re probably going to move me around a little bit, give me a shot at second base,” he said. “Hopefully more like a utility guy.”
Tech coach Danny Hall said earlier in the year that he believes Gonzalez will reach the major leagues "because he can play a lot of positions, he likes to play, he likes to work at baseball and he’s a great competitor.”
Gonzalez almost certainly will never play in Turner Field, but he's quite familiar with it. He played there four times in the annual Tech-Georgia game there. His final one was decidedly the most memorable. He hit a two-run home run in the top of the 10th inning to unlock a 3-3 tie as the Jackets won 6-3.
“I’ve loved my career at Tech,” he said. “I wouldn’t trade anything for that. I’m glad I came back for my fourth year. That was probably my most favorite year I had. I love playing for Coach Hall and ‘Princey’ (assistant coach Bryan Prince) and everyone over there, all the guys from Georgia Tech.”