June 24, 2014
The Situation: With Jaime Garcia now their third starting pitcher on the disabled list, the Cardinals once again turn to a first-rounder from just one year before to help bolster their starting rotation, calling up left-handed pitcher Marco Gonzales to make his major-league debut on Wednesday.
Background: Gonzales, a former Gonzaga Bulldog, was the 19th overall selection in 2013, and after a brief stop in the Gulf Coast League reached the Florida State League for four starts in his draft year. He returned to Palm Beach to start the 2014 season and cruised through the league to the tune of a 1.43 ERA, 7.6 K/9 and a minuscule 1.9 BB/9, earning a promotion after just six starts. Seven Double-A starts later, with a 2.33 ERA, 10.7 K/9 and 2.3 BB/9, Gonzales was called upon to help patch a Cardinals’ big-league rotation that’s taking on water.
Scouting Report: Gonzales is not oversized or overpowering, but he was well polished coming out of Gonzaga, and was thought to have a high floor and was expected to move quickly through the Cardinals system. Both proved to be true.
Gonzales sits 88-91 mph with his fastball and features plus command, allowing the pitch to play up. It’s not an overpowering pitch nor does he miss bats with it, but his ability to locate it helps him set hitters up for what’s to come.
His best pitch is his changeup, which is a true plus-plus pitch and will be the calling card for Gonzales’ career. Featuring plus arm-side fade and diving action, Gonzales throws it with identical arm action to the rest of his pitches. He throws it at any time to any hitter and is fearless with the pitch generating swings and misses. The deception on the changeup allows his fastball to play up even further than it already does with his command.
Gonzales also features a curveball, which has the potential to be above average as well. Sitting 75-77 mph, it’s a big sweeping pitch rather than a hard breaker, which will keep lefties uncomfortable but may leave it susceptible to right-handed hitters. It’s clearly his third-best offering, but it’s effective enough to give hitters yet another pitch to consider.
The player’s combination of fastball command and an impact changeup will allow him to settle into the middle of a big league rotation for years to come. His lack of upper-echelon velocity limits his ceiling, but the changeup will make him effective enough to pitch in playoff games with success as a key piece of first-division teams.
Immediate Big-League Future: Even though he’s following a remarkably similar pattern and aggressive path to the big leagues, we can’t expect Gonzales to have the same level of success that Michael Wacha did last year, which culminated with a near-no-hitter in the playoffs and standout pitching in the World Series. That said, it’s reasonable to believe that Gonzales will achieve a moderate level of success right away as a lefty with lesser velocity surrounded by hard-throwing right-handers in the Cardinals rotation. The first time through the league, hitters will be baffled by his changeup despite being prepared with scouting reports talking it up. How long he’s in the majors will likely depend on his success and the health of the current crop of injured Cardinals starters (remember, Wacha was sent back down after his debut before returning for good later in the season in 2013), but Gonzales has the game to step right in and have success immediately. —Jeff Moore
Fantasy Impact: In recent years, the St. Louis Cardinals have proven to be a bona fide pitching factory, and lefty Marco Gonzales is yet another talented young arm who is poised to break into the big leagues for the Redbirds. Although the BP Prospect team ranked him as the fifth-best prospect in the Cardinals system over the winter, he’s gained major helium throughout the 2014 campaign after dominating High-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield. He struck out 78 batters in 76.1 innings between the two levels and compiled an overall 1.89 ERA. It has been beautiful stuff.
The good news is that Gonzales possesses a devastating changeup that projects to miss bats at the major-league level. Busch Stadium also tends to suppress offense—despite the bizarre early-season park factor in 2014—so his overall numbers should benefit from pitching most of his games in a favorable environment. He entered the season with the ceiling of a no. 3 starter. And while he has taken significant steps forward this season, that still feels right for fantasy purposes. The southpaw projects to provide a 3.50-to-3.75 ERA with a solid WHIP and could legitimately be league average in strikeouts, even without an overpowering fastball.
Unfortunately for fantasy owners, it’s unclear if the 22-year-old lefty will even be up in the big leagues for long enough for his cup of coffee to cool. The Cardinals possess a wealth of pitching depth. However, most of that pitching staff is on the disabled list. Gonzales is penciled in as the fifth starter. As Joe Kelly, Jaime Garcia, and Michael Wacha rehab their injuries and return to the active roster, Gonzales is likely the first option to be replaced, which would swiftly land him back in the minors. To avoid such a fate, the former first round pick would have to immediately be a revelation on the mound, or the injury bug would have to spread to other sections of the Cardinals’ rotation.
Gonzales began the year in High-A, so it’s unlikely that he’s owned in most redraft leagues. There’s no way that he’s been plucked off the waiver wire in shallower mixed leagues. With that said, he’s worth a flier in deeper leagues, as he possesses all the tools to find immediate success at the major leagues. In shallower leagues, however, it doesn’t seem prudent to allocate a valuable roster spot to Gonzales until he proves effective after a dramatic jump from Double-A to the majors or he is guaranteed more than a couple starts. Fantasy owners in dynasty leagues should be all over the left-hander if he’s not already on someone’s roster, but he has likely been snatched up already.
In non-dynasty leagues, I’m perhaps allocating $4-5 in FAAB to Gonzales. I believe he has the tools to be a mid-rotation starter in the very near future, but it’s unclear if this callup is anything more than an effective stop-gap for the Cardinals until their proven starters can begin to come off the disabled list in the coming weeks. Owners in keeper leagues can get a bit more aggressive, while dynasty owners should elbow people out of the way to acquire the lefty. He should be a mid-rotation starter for years to come, and while that’s not the most sexy profile, it remains extremely valuable—both in fantasy and real-life baseball. —J.P. Breen
Jeff Moore is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @jeffmooreBP