PEORIA, Ariz. -- Among other things, the Cactus League offers clubs an opportunity to get a look -- and a second look -- at some interesting possibilities as to who can help the club in the long run. For the Rockies, seeing outfielder Carlos Gonzalez in camp in 2013 has been more like doing a double-take.
Gonzalez came to camp considerably leaner than his 2012 look, and to hear him tell it, the change is a reflection of his newfound comfort with his on-field identity.
"I tried to be bigger before, and it didn't work," Gonzalez said. "I understand now the kind of player I am is explosive, not big and looking for power. When I hit homers, I'm just quick to the ball. I don't put any extra power [in my swing]. I just have to hit the ball in the right spot."
Walt Weiss, his new manager, had never met Gonzalez before this year's Spring Training opened, and ironically he found the leaned-down Gonzalez to be bigger than he'd expected after watching him from a distance over the last few years.
"It's a big frame," Weiss said. "I didn't realize he was that wide."
Weiss was a teammate of Todd Helton's -- briefly in 1997, when Helton debuted in Weiss' final year with the Rockies -- and served as a special consultant with the team when Troy Tulowitzki broke into the Majors and helped catapult Colorado to the World Series in 2007. But seeing the newest superstar on the club in person made an indelible impression on the new manager.
"The first time I saw him take BP this spring, I was in awe," Weiss said. "I was looking at [hitting coach] Dante [Bichette], and I said, 'Dante, you didn't hit it like that, did you?' I'm like, 'That's more like Big Cat [Andres Galarraga].' CarGo hits those line drives the opposite way that never come down. They're still going up when they go out."
Weiss has seen his share of elite hitters, playing with the Blake Street Bombers -- Galarraga, Bichette, Ellis Burks, Vinny Castilla and Larry Walker -- in their glory days, with the perennial playoff-bound Braves at the turn of the century, and cutting his teeth with the A's beside Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco, but he still speaks of Gonzalez in superlatives.
[Canseco and McGwire] were more loft players," Weiss recalled. "Jose's line drives would be more top spin. CarGo hits that backspin the opposite way. I don't know if I've seen anybody that gets that much backspin to the off gap. It goes to the biggest part of the field to the opposite way, and it goes out by 80 feet. It doesn't even make sense."
The good news in Colorado's clubhouse is that the leaner Gonzalez is not meaner. With every season under his belt and every new notch of accomplishment -- he made his first All-Star team in 2012 and is representing Venezuela in his first World Baseball Class this spring -- Gonzalez seems to get even more grounded, becoming even more of a team player.
The mantle of leadership falls easily on his shoulders. For Gonzalez, it begins with his work ethic and is fueled by a competitive nature that was seasoned with his catalytic effect on Colorado in 2009, pacing the purple pinstripes to a playoff berth and going ballistic with his bat in the National League Division Series against the Phillies, hitting .588 over the course of four games.
"I always expect better and better every year," Gonzalez said. "The last two years, with the injuries, it cost me at the end of the year. That's why I work hard every day to try to stay healthy. I want to get to 600 at-bats. I play every day, and I have the opportunity to get there, but if I'm not in the lineup, I'll never get there."
He's started four of the Rockies' first five games, taking nothing for granted in April in hopes of putting it all to use again in October.
"I want to play the last game until we don't have any more games," Gonzalez said. "Hopefully we get to the postseason, and that's when you want to be healthy and ready. That's my goal."
Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.