Golden Path To The Bigs

Below is a feature that I recently wrote for VYPE Magazine on former standout of The Woodlands HS, Paul Goldschmidt. Special thanks to Casey Wilcox and Morgan Ballard of the Arizona Diamondbacks for arranging the interview.

Five years ago he was prepping for the fall semester at Texas State. Now, Paul Goldschmidt is in the midst of a heated pennant race while adjusting to life in the Major Leagues.

After a stellar start to the 2011 season with the Class Double-A Mobile BayBears, Goldschmidt had asserted himself as one of the Southern League’s premier offensive standouts in what is typically a pitcher-friendly league.

Notching 30 home runs, 94 RBI with a .306 batting average and a .636 slugging percentage in just 103 games, the six-foot-three, 245-pound product of The Woodlands High School got the call that he had been waiting for since he was a youngster.

“I was excited because they just called and told me to go pack my bags,” said Goldschmidt after learning of his promotion to the Arizona Diamondbacks. “I told my wife and we both called our families and everyone was excited. I was just thrilled to get out to San Francisco where we had our first game.”

As one of the top prospects in the Diamondbacks’ minor league system, it wasn’t a surprise to many scouts that Goldschmidt bypassed the clubs’ Triple-A affiliate, the Reno Aces. After all, the standout rookie had garnered a selection to the 2011 MLB Futures Game and was named both the Best Batting Prospect and the Most Exciting Player in the Southern League according to Baseball America.

However, Goldschmidt credits his quick rise to where it all began – The Woodlands.

“Playing baseball in the Houston area has been extremely competitive since Little League,” said Goldschmidt. “There are so many great players in the area and growing up playing against a lot of them in both high school and college made it fun to go out there and compete every day while just having fun.

“Every little kid’s goal is to make it when they watch baseball on TV. I didn’t really know what the chances were (to make it professionally) but it was something that I worked really hard to get and it is something that I will continue to work hard to prove myself as best that I can.”

During his senior year at The Woodlands, The Highlanders put together a dominant run through the state baseball tournament as they posted a 38-1 record en route to topping Katy for the State Championship. With a talented roster that featured current Blue Jays’ top-prospect Kyle Drabek and former TCU standout Steven Maxwell, the Highlanders had a formidable 1-2 punch on the mound.

Despite all of the talent in the program, it was Goldschmidt who was often deemed one of the key leaders on the team. Holding down the hot corner on the diamond, he posted a .315 average while tallying eight home runs and 44 RBI during his senior campaign. His on the field performance was good enough to earn a 48th round selection by the Dodgers in the 2006 First-Year Player Draft.

With the prospect of beginning his professional career directly out of high school, Goldschmidt opted to play collegiate baseball under the tutelage of Ty Harrington at Texas State with hopes of improving his draft stock.

“My whole goal was to just try and get better every day,” said Goldschmidt. “The coaches at Texas State were awesome. They worked with me both offensively and defensively and we played against some great competition. I was able to improve there and the plan is continue to get better for as long as I am playing.”

In a junior season that saw Goldschmidt smash career marks for home runs and runs batted in, scouts took notice of the two-time Southland Conference Hitter of the Year and reigning Player of the Year.

With gaudy offensive numbers and an improved glove despite a position change, the Arizona Diamondbacks decided to pull the trigger in the eighth round of the 2009 draft by selecting Goldschmidt.

After an impressive run through Single-A ball that saw Goldschmidt garner citations as the D-backs’ organizational Player of the Year, California League Most Valuable Player and league Rookie of the Year, the club promoted the slugger to the BayBears prior to the start of this season.

Without a decline in offensive numbers in a more difficult league, he was given his next assignment on Aug. 1 as he made his Major League debut against Matt Cain and the San Francisco Giants.

In his first at-bat at in a Diamondbacks uniform, Goldschmidt ripped a single off of Cain and followed with his first career homer off of two-time Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum, the following night.

“It was nice to get the first hit out of the way,” said Goldschmidt. “It helped me to settle in, relax and just play the game.

“It was a lot of fun making my debut in San Francisco against a sold-out crowd. We had our best pitchers on the mound and so did the Giants. We were able to win the first two games and clinch the series so it was definitely a good way to start my big league career.”

With just 15 games under his belt, Goldschmidt has tallied two doubles, four home runs and 10 RBI including a game-tying, pinch-hit, home run against the Astros on Aug. 11 and a 3-for-4 performance on Aug. 14 as the Diamondbacks swept past the Mets to stay atop the National League West standings.

Earlier this week, Goldschmidt belted his third home run of the season off of Cliff Lee to become the only active player to hit home runs off of two former Cy Young Award winners less than three weeks into his major-league career, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

Led by Goldschmidt’s .298 batting average, Arizona is currently sitting just two and a half games ahead of the Giants in the pennant race. Additionally, the D-backs’ have utilized 32 come-from-behind victories this season and have proved that they are a contender in the playoff race with their never-say-die mentality.

“It was definitely a quick (call-up to the big leagues) but I’m excited to be here during a division race,” said Goldschmidt. “We have such a talented team here with a bunch of great guys who refuse to give up and keep battling. I’ve just enjoyed the opportunity to be able to play baseball for a living – I’m very lucky.”

While it isn’t typical to make a jump straight from Double-A to the Major Leagues, Goldschmidt admits that there are challenges to facing such a stringent learning curve.

“The consistency that the guys in the big leagues have is the biggest difference,” said Goldschmidt. “The pitchers aren’t making as many mistakes and the hitters are much better because they all have a plan up at the plate and are more disciplined. I am trying to learn as much as I can here every day by talking with the veteran guys on the team and the coaching staff to just pick their brains to learn as much as I can.”

At the young age of 23 and a bright future on the horizon, Goldschmidt is thankful for the chance to play the game of baseball. As for the youth back in the greater Houston area that hope to follow in his footsteps, he encourages them to just enjoy the game.

“If you have goals to play professionally or in college, work hard at it because there are guys all over the state of Texas and the Houston area that are vying for that same dream,” he explained. “It’s tough to do but if you work hard and put in the effort and keep the right positive attitude, anything can happen.”