Pipeline Perspectives: Gonzales best pitcher not in Top 100
Left-hander has edge on fellow Cardinals prospect Reyes
There's a good amount of subjectivity regarding baseball prospects. With the evaluation of talent being in the eye of the beholder, finding consensus is often difficult. Even Jim Callis and Jonathan Mayo of MLBPipeline.com don't always see eye to eye. They discuss their viewpoints regularly in a feature called Pipeline Perspectives. Submit a topic for them to debate.
We wanted to keep the Top 100 Prospects talk going, and who can blame us? On Tuesday, both Jim Callis and I gave our Pipeline Perspectives on which hitting prospect not among the Top 100 we liked best. Now it's time to move to the mound.
There are a lot of pitchers in the Top 100 -- 46 to be exact. And there were plenty of intriguing arms in the conversation as we put the list together. And much like Jim and I stayed at one position (third base) for our best non-100 hitter picks, we're both looking at one organization for our pitchers: the St. Louis Cardinals. Jim's choice, Alex Reyes, has some upside but is still fairly far away from the big leagues. My selection, Marco Gonzales, might not have quite the same ceiling, but his floor is pretty high and he's ready to contribute full-time in the big leagues.
I would put Gonzales atop a list of top five pitchers not in the Top 100:
3. Michael Feliz, Astros
4. Luke Jackson, Rangers
5. Rafael Montero, Mets
Whether Gonzales gets the chance right away remains to be seen. He should get an opportunity to compete for the last spot in the Cardinals rotation, thanks to the departure of Shelby Miller via trade. If Gonzales wins the job, he won't be on prospect lists for long. We use rookie eligibility as our guide and Gonzales needs just 15 1/3 innings to get to the 50-inning threshold that translates to prospect graduation in our book.
That's neither here nor there for the purposes of this discussion. Gonzales actually spent time in the Top 100 last year, coming on as a replacement, and was No. 98 at season's end. Not being on the list now is more of a reflection of some other pitchers' rising stock than anything Gonzales did to diminish his.
Gonzales was the Cardinals' first-round pick, taken No. 19 overall, in the 2013 Draft, and the lefty out of Gonzaga made his big league debut a little more than a year after being selected. And while his first two appearances weren't pretty -- 10 runs on 14 hits in 9 1/3 innings -- he was much better after that. In 23 1/3 innings after those first two starts, Gonzales yielded just 18 hits and six earned runs. That's a 2.31 ERA for those of you scoring at home. That included four outings as a reliever, a role he wasn't accustomed to previously.
That also doesn't count the 5 1/3 scoreless relief innings Gonzales posted in the playoffs before getting dinged for three runs in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series. The fact he was given the ball so frequently in important situations speaks volumes about what the organization thinks of the soon-to-be 23-year-old.
What Gonzales did after those first two starts really encapsulates who he is as a pitcher. He's the first to admit that he was trying to do too much, reaching back for a 95-plus fastball that he simply doesn't have. So Gonzales made some adjustments, remembered who he was and what got him to the big leagues, and got outs.
Gonzales does it without "wow" stuff, for the most part. His fastball will sit around 90 mph. His breaking stuff is OK, with some depth to it. His exceptional pitch is his changeup, one of the best among all pitching prospects -- maybe even among all pitchers, period. Gonzales throws it with great arm speed and tremendous deception and can use it to get outs against any hitter at any point in the count.
Gonzales' outstanding command and control allows his stuff to play up. The fastball might top out at 91 mph or so, but he can move it in and out, up and down. He knows how to set up hitters and keep them off balance. A terrific athlete who won the 2013 John Olerud Award as the nation's best college two-way player, Gonzales repeats his delivery and fields his position very well.
So maybe Gonzales doesn't have the highest ceiling in the world. But he has every chance to settle in as a No. 3 or really good No. 4 starter, even if that comes after a year of helping the Cardinals contend, yet again, for an NL Central crown.