SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-handed prospect Rayan Gonzalez is headed in a Major League direction, now that he has a handle on his best pitch -- a 94-96 mph fastball with natural cutter movement.
Gonzalez, 26, a 21st-round Draft pick in 2012 out of Bethune-Cookman College, posted a solid 49 strikeouts in 52 innings at Double-A Hartford last season, but his 23 walks were a concern. But Gonzalez put himself on the Major League radar in the Arizona Fall League with 12 strikeouts and two walks in 11 2/3 innings.
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The performance earned him a spot in the AFL Fall Stars Game, a place on the Rockies' Major League 40-man roster and a slot in the designated pitcher pool for native Puerto Rico in the World Baseball Classic.
"I appreciated that the Rockies gave me the opportunity to be in the Fall League and show what I have, and to perform as well as I did," said Gonzalez, whose first name is pronounced RI-an. "I feel confident coming into Spring Training, and I'm just going to try to do the same thing that I did in the Fall League."
Gonzalez has a sharp, downward break on his curveball to complement the fastball. The mix leads to swing-and-miss pitches, as well as ground-ball ability (a career 2.47 ground-ball outs per flyout). But it's the cut on the fastball that is his ticket.
"I've settled down and I know what the ball's going to do -- if it's a huge cut or a smaller cut," Gonzalez said. "I have a pretty good idea what it's going to do every pitch.
"Since I was a kid, my fastball has always cut, but now it's shorter and shorter. And it's easier to catch, too. Having a huge cutter wasn't helping me. I wasn't able to stay in the strike zone as much."
Rockies co-pitching coordinator Doug Linton said he saw Gonzalez's fastball control develop, and that the curve has surpassed what he thought was a workable changeup. Not only did the Rockies like what they saw, but so did Alex Cora, the general manager for Puerto Rico's World Baseball Classic team.
"Every step he's made has been a little bit of a challenge to him, but last year he got over that hump and put everything together," Linton said. "We'll see what happens here in Spring Training, how he competes. This is big for him."
Gonzalez is older than many first-time Major League roster players, but he has remained steady during a long journey.
From Arecibo, Puerto Rico, Gonzalez was initially taken by the Athletics in the 18th round of the 2008 Draft. But he was fluent in English and thought college ball could help him to a better offer. Then-Bethune-Cookman coach Mervyl Melendez, who is also from Puerto Rico, offered a full Division I scholarship.
Gonzalez had some minor arm injuries as a junior and returned for his senior year. He added that he is two or three classes shy of a bachelor's degree in psychology and plans to finish schooling.
It isn't the only task Gonzalez wants to complete.