RHP, Kingsport Mets (R)
Height, weight: 6', 160
Age (2014 season age): 20
Acquired: IFA, 2009
Date(s) seen: 6/28/15 @ Bluefield Blue Jays: 8 IP, 1 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 0 BB, 9 K, HBP
2015 so far: 3 G, 20.2 IP, 15 H, 15 K, 2 BB, 0 HR
Profile and mechanics
Gonzalez's listed height and weight are both an inch or two and ten to twenty pounds generous. In scouting terms, I believe the preferred adjective is 'diminutive.' Put another way, my wife (who has seen a fair amount of low-minors baseball over the years) thought he was the ballboy. During his windup, he turns slightly toward home and compacts his small frame even more, before exploding toward the plate, landing fairly upright and flying open a bit. Despite the description, the arm action is pretty smooth, and there isn't all that much effort there. It's a bit of an homage to Pedro Martinez with the delivery (and he has the curly fro and wispy mustache to boot). And like Pedro, Gonzalez has got some balls on the mound. After Bluefield tried to break up his perfect game in the seventh with bunts from two separate batters, he got the last out of the inning on a good changeup and then had some words for the opposing dugout. I don't mind that one bit.
Gonzalez's fastball ranged from 87-91 early, sitting 88-90, and dropped to 87-88 later in the game as he tired. He was reportedly 90-92 in his first start of the season. While the velocity isn't eye-popping from the right side, the pitch is sneaky fast due to the late life on it, which he most notably showed glove-side and up. Bluefield did not put good swings on the fastball at all until Gonzalez started to tire late in the start.
He can work all four quadrants of the strike zone with the pitch and commands it well considering his experience level. He can get good first strikes with the pitch already. Now, it's hard to see Gonzalez adding much more velocity given his frame, but I could see him building up enough stamina to keep low-90s velocity deeper into games. That, coupled with his command projection and the late movement on the pitch, would make it a solid major league offering.
Current Grade: 40 (Below-average)
Future Grade: 55 (Solid-average)
More Minor League Mets
More Minor League Mets
Gonzalez's breaking ball is a slurvy offering that came in at 80-83. 'Slurve' is often a pejorative in scouting circles, but Gonzalez has some feel for the breaker, and I could easily see it tightening up into a decent slider with more experience. He could spot it for a strike, but had trouble consistently staying on top of the pitch and it would flatten out and stay up, especially later in the game. And even earlier in the start the feel would come and go, but the best ones did show some hard tilt to them. The breaking ball will get swings-and-misses at this level, but need more refinement to be effective at higher levels. Given Gonzalez's overall feel for pitching, I don't have many qualms about projecting that necessary grade jump in the future.
Current Grade: 40 (Below average)
Future Grade: 50: (Average)
According to Kingsport pitching coach Jonathan Hirst, Gonzalez uses both a split and a regular changeup. Both sat in the low 80s, so I chalked up the difference in movement to inconsistency. Both pitches work incredibly well though. The straight change has good arm-side fade and comes out of the hand just like the fastball. The split is more of a tumbler right now (which is likely part of the reason it was hard to distinguish), but he can start it in the zone and make it look like a strike. Overall, Gonzalez has very advanced feel for the pitches, he will throw them right-on-right or early in counts, and when he is ahead, it's his out pitch. I am very hesitant to throw a present major league average grade on a secondary offering I see in Rookie ball (or even A-ball, really), but Gonzalez's pair of changeups certainly merit that consideration. I don't the the pitch is quite there yet, but he flashed some solid-average and even plus ones, and I think he gets there eventually.
Current Grade: 45 (Fringe-average)
Future Grade: 60: (Above-average/Plus)
The optimistic projection
50: #4 starter
The likely outcome
40: AAA/6th starter
Gonzalez is a bit of an anomaly among rookie ball pitching prospects. Usually the better prospects at this level have top-line stuff but are still figuring out how to use it. Gonzalez's stuff isn't light by any means, but he is more a "whole is greater than the sum of the parts" guy right now. That's not a bad thing, though it may limit his ceiling a little bit. I think he could get outs in A-ball right now, and even if he doesn't hit those future grades, his pitchability should get him to at least Double-A. And if the velocity does settle in the low 90s, and he refines the breaking ball, suddenly you have a guy with three average or better major league offerings that knows how to use them. It's not Pedro Martinez, but in a system suddenly a bit thin on pitching (for the right reasons, mind you), Gonzalez is a name worth keeping an eye on.
What to look for during the 2016 season
I would like to see the Mets be aggressive with Gonzalez next year. At 20 years old he's not all that young for the Appalachian League, and given that he has the strike-throwing profile that the player-development staff seems to prefer, I expect a full-season ball assignment to Columbia (going to have to get used to typing that). I don't see the South Atlantic League being much of a speed bump for Gonzalez, and I would not be surprised if he finishes the year in St. Lucie. Beyond that, he will need to refine the breaking ball and add some strength, so keep an eye on those 2016 scouting reports.