After signing with the Phillies as an amateur free agent in 2011, Gonzalez made his pro debut that same year in the VSL, putting together a 1-1 record with a save and a 2.11 ERA in 17 games as a reliever. The following season in the same league, Gonzalez tallied a 7-3 record and a league best 1.65 ERA in 14 starts. He also led the league in strike outs (86), innings pitched (92 2/3) and complete games (two).
In 2013, at the age of 20, Gonzalez came to the United States for his very first spring training and showed no great issues when dealing with the cultural change. He was able to bond with countryman Carlos Ruiz, who was serving a drug suspension at extended spring training which helped Gonzalez adapt. His comfort level was clear, as he was impressive enough to earn a spot with the Class A Advanced Clearwater Threshers by early May and shined brightly in the months that followed.
Through his first 11 outings in the Florida State League, Gonzalez sported video game numbers, allowing just one earned run in 26 1/3 innings while striking out 32 and issuing just two free passes. A rough appearance (four earned runs in one inning) on June 22nd was followed by a demotion to Class A Lakewood, which was designed to get Gonzalez into a starting role.
With Lakewood, Gonzalez continued to dominate, going 3-0 with 1.69 ERA while striking out 31 and walking three in 21 1/3 innings over four starts.
After a return to Clearwater, during which he sported a 2.23 ERA in eight starts, Gonzalez closed out the season with a start on Labor Day for Double-A Reading, allowing two earned runs in 6 2/3 innings. He struck out six and allowed no walks in that game.
Gonzalez's exceptional season saw him post 7-5 record, a 2.00 ERA, a .224 batting average against along with his 10.33 K/9 and his 1.91 BB/9 combined at three levels. For his efforts, the youngster was named as the Phillies' Paul Owens Award winner, an honor given to the top minor league pitcher and position player in the organization each year.
Control is Gonzalez's top skill. The 21-year-old possesses a very strong command of his pitches. Coaches love his ability to consistently throw the ball where he wants it and they are impressed with the way he attacks opposing batters and pounds the zone inside. He also has great mindset on the mound which comes across in the manner in which he confidently mixes his pitches.
His repertoire features fastball that often sits in the low 90's, a quality cutter, a strong change up that fools batters and a curve ball that coaches saw great improvement in last year. His ability to throw all four offerings steadily for strikes is certainly a plus for Gonzalez and the menu keeps batters guessing, which improves the impact of his fastball.
Ideally, the Phillies and their fans would like to see the six-foot-two 155-pounder add some muscle. A more developed frame could add some MPH's to the fastball, which isn't overly impressive in it's current state. Increased velocity would help in the long run for sure.
Gonzalez is loaded with promise at this stage. He'll very likely get more time with Reading in the Eastern League in the coming season. Need may determine what role he fills in 2014, but I feel as though the future for Gonzalez is in the bullpen with a ceiling as a big league reliever.
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