There was no snow on the ground Tuesday in Tucson but Luis Gonzalez felt holiday festive.
“It’s like Christmas around here,” Gonzalez said after being selected by the Chicago White Sox in round three of the Major League Baseball draft. “I couldn’t be happier right now.”
Gonzalez, a three-year standout for the University of New Mexico baseball team, was the 87th overall pick in the draft. That pick’s approximate slot value is at $636,500, according to mlb.com.
Later Tuesday, Gonzalez’s Lobo teammate Jack Zoellner was taken in the ninth round, 263rd overall, to the Philadelphia Phillies. The slot value for that pick is $144,600.
Slot values determine how much money each major league team can spend on its draft picks. Draftees could end up signing for higher or lower than their draft slots.
After playing center field and pitching for the Lobos, Gonzalez said he will focus exclusively on playing outfield for the White Sox. The left-handed hitter posted a .356 career batting average at UNM with 18 home runs, 54 doubles, 113 RBIs and 35 stolen bases in 42 attempts.
Gonzalez said some of the scouts who followed him throughout his college career were interested in him as a pitcher, but most teams, including the White Sox, were not.
“Maybe if I were about 4 inches taller I’d have gotten more love as a pitcher,” said the 6-foot Gonzalez, who was born in Mexico but moved to Tucson as a child. “But I don’t want to pitch one day and sit out four anyway. I like to go out and play every day and I like hitting more than pitching.”
Gonzalez, who missed the recent Mountain West tournament because of academic issues, said he regrets the way his UNM career ended. But he was thankful for his time in Albuquerque and plans to return frequently during baseball’s offseason.
“Everyone there made me feel welcome and I can’t thank them enough,” Gonzalez said. “I couldn’t have made a better decision coming out of high school than to go to UNM. I’ll always be a proud Lobo.”
Two more players with New Mexico ties were drafted in the sixth round.
Tyler Buffett, an Albuquerque Academy graduate who went on to Oklahoma State, was taken by the Cincinnati Reds with the 167th pick. Buffett, a right-handed pitcher, recently completed his senior year with the Cowboys and posted a 6-5 record with a 5.23 ERA in 17 games (15 starts). He was also drafted by the Houston Astros in round seven of the 2016 draft but opted not to sign.
Marcel Renteria, a junior right-hander at New Mexico State last season, went 20 picks later at No. 187 to the New York Mets. Renteria went 7-3 with a 4.78 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 79 innings for the Aggies.
Three rounds later, UNM’s Zoellner received a welcome call from the Philadelphia Phillies. Zoellner was the 263rd player selected and, like Gonzalez, heard the news at his home in Arizona.
“I’m feeling very blessed right now,” Zoellner said.
Zoellner saw his monster senior season with the Lobos cut short when he was hit by a pitch and suffered a broken bone in his left hand with five regular-season games remaining. Even so, the Lobos’ first baseman was named Mountain West Co-Player of the Year after hitting .368 with 12 homers and 56 RBIs.
Zoellner is still recovering from his hand injury but will report to Florida next week for rehab. A little extra time before his first professional game may pay off because the Phillies plan to employ Zoellner at third base.
“I think I played there in the fall of my freshman year,” he said with a laugh. “But I grew up playing third base. I moved to first at UNM because coach (Ray Birmingham) thought I could save us some errors. I’ll adjust.”