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40 in 40: Marco Gonzales

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2018 is make or break for the former top Cardinals prospect.

Seattle Mariners v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

1, 19, 2013.

It’s the round, pick, and year where the St. Louis Cardinals selected LHP Marco Gonzales out of Gonzaga University. They saw a refined pitcher with an elite changeup that would allow him succeed quickly, and they were correct. One year after being drafted, Gonzales had breezed through High-A and Double-A to solid results in Triple-A, and, ultimately, a late season call-up with the playoff-bound Cards.

With the Cardinals rotation in flux, Gonzales has an opportunity to make an impression now. In the big picture he could probably use some additional time in the minors to refine his breaking ball, but overall I think he has a good shot at being a command-oriented number three starter. ~ John Sickels

6/26/2014 - Minor League Ball

5, 1, 5, 13.

That was where Marco Gonzales ranked on the St. Louis Cardinals prospect lists according to Baseball America following the 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016 seasons. His profile was bright enough to be ranked 50th in all of baseball after 2014, and the reasons were always the same. The changeup was superb. The fastball was passable, and controlled well. The curveball was unremarkable, but when he kept it low it was enough to give lefties trouble.

Swing-and-miss changeup with silly drop and arm-slot/arm-speed deception; “any count” pitch that elevates effectiveness of overall arsenal; average fastball velocity plays up due to late action and ability to spot; comfortable working both sides of the plate and solid feel for sequencing displayed through minors; curveball en route to solid-average status; can mix in a short slider that should miss barrels; even demeanor, stolid presence on bump; repeatable mechanics and feel should allow for plus command profile; plus makeup. ~ BP Prospect Staff

11/24/14 - Baseball Prospectus

26, 19, 0, 22.

The number of starts Gonzales made in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. The eagerness of the Cardinals to utilize him in their playoff run led to troubles in 2015. Shoulder fatigue sidelined him twice, but he remained well-regarded. Then came Tommy John early in 2016, likely borne out of added elbow strain to compensate for his ailing shoulder, and the whispers of concern became the consensus. A jumbled development path, combined with injury issues, shuffled Gonzales off of the prospect track and, without minor league options, into limbo.

Remember Marco Gonzalez? [sic] He’s still rookie eligible after making his big-league debut back in 2014 and proceeding to deal with various injuries (including a shoulder issue in 2015, TJ early in 2016) since then. Healthy Gonzalez [sic] was 88-92 with tail and life (he’d miss bats up in the zone with that fastball) while featuring a plus changeup in the 76-78 mph range with significant fade, a fringe to average curveball, and flashes of plus command. He was — and, you could still argue, remains — a potential mid-rotation starter. He was missing bats in the spring of 2016 before getting injured. He’s begun throwing again and should be ready to face hitters at some point toward the end of spring training, at which point we’ll see how much of his stuff is there. - Eric Longenhagen

1/31/2017 - Fangraphs

13.

The number of months between Gonzales’ surgery in April 2016 and his first rehab start in May 2017. Tommy John is not a death sentence, but we can track the results more easily now. In their first year back, pitchers tend to experience significant struggles compared to their pre-surgery results. From Jeff Zimmerman and The Hardball Times, we see the difference between pitchers’ previous results and the seasons that follow:

Jeff Zimmerman / The Hardball Times

All percentages are relative to the numbers from the pitcher’s pre-injury year. Positive percentages indicate on average that number grew from the pre-injury year, e.g. If a pitcher had a 4.49 ERA (league-average for a starter in 2017) the year before TJ, they’d be expected to have an ERA of 4.75 the year they returned. That loosely “expected” ERA wold drop to about 4.52 the following year, (the second year removed from surgery), which is where Gonzales find himself in 2018. Relatedly, we see that on average, pitchers’ second year after TJ coincides with a walk rate that returns almost to pre-injury levels and a strikeout rate that does the same. This is often because velocity returns as fully as it ever does by this point, but improved command and comfort with offspeed pitches is also likely a component.

It’s difficult to discern what remains of the Marco Gonzales who was so resoundingly viewed as a safe bet for mid-rotation production. If Gonzales’ timeline matches that of most TJ recoveries, 2018 should give us our best chance at gauging what the soon-to-be 26 year-old has left. Unfortunately for him, there will be little room for error.

Since he lacks minor league options, Marco should get first crack in the rotation over Andrew Moore, Max Povse, Rob Whalen, and Ariel Miranda. If he flounders, the only alternatives are a move to the bullpen once again (understandable), a trade (unlikely), or a DFA (unacceptable). There’s no more time for delays. Somewhere inside Marco Gonzales is still a pitcher who could solidify the Mariners rotation. Scouts saw it. The Cardinals saw it. The Mariners saw it.

Now we need to see it, once every five days.