TCN 2015 Cards Prospect #1: Marco Gonzales

Remaining questions are how soon and in what role will the talented lefty return to St. Louis.

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile

School: Gonzaga University

2014 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
6 LHS 02,16,92 6-1 195 L L 2013 1st

Selected 2014 stats

Mem 4 1 3.35 4.77 8 8 0 45.2 43 17 7 9 39 0.251 0.88 0.277
Spr 3 2 2.33 2.19 7 7 0 38.2 33 10 2 10 46 0.220 0.97 0.304
PB 2 2 1.43 2.67 6 6 0 37.2 34 6 1 8 32 0.239 1.53 0.303
Tot 9 5 2.43   21 21 0 122.0 110 33 10 27 117 0.238 1.08  
StL 4 2 4.15 4.75 10 5 0 34.2 32 16 4 21 31 0.241 0.82 0.283

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (2): Gonzales garnered the #2 spot during the community vote, but some posters believed he should have been #1. I put Gonzales ahead of Alex Reyes and Rob Kaminsky because he has already passed A+/AA/AAA and was doing well in the majors. Blingboy, likewise, puts a lot of value on proximity to the majors when comparing Gonzales to the Class-A aces and he also likes the poise Marco showed as well as his willingness to use secondary pitches.

CariocaCardinal thinks that Reyes has much higher upside than Gonzales, and right now, Gonzales’ floor is that of a Major League gopher ball pitcher. CardsInChitown believes Gonzales to have excellent stuff and speculated that he could see the organization “making room” for Marco, as they did with Kolten Wong in 2014 and Shelby Miller in 2013, something that at least partially ended up happening with Miller being traded soon after he made that comment. - Jeremy Byrd

Derek Shore: Gonzales, the Cardinals’ first pick from the 2013 draft, was The Cardinal Nation’s sixth-ranked prospect last winter, and is this years’ top overall prospect after a whirlwind season. He moved across four levels culminated by making his major-league debut on June 25th against his home-state Colorado Rockies.

Gonzales started 2014 at Palm Beach and ended at St. Louis as a part of the postseason bullpen. Overall, including his big-league numbers, Gonzales was 13-7 W-L with a 2.81 ERA. He excelled at all four of the levels and that performance earned him the Cardinals organizational Minor League Pitcher of The Year award.

The lefty from Gonzaga University has some of the most beautiful mechanics you’ll see with an ability to repeat with ease. His repertoire features an average fastball that is most effective when down in the zone and it plays up significantly when his plus change-up is working.

His fastball isn't overpowering or with the wicked movement most lefties harness. As a result, it is a pitch that he’ll have to use wisely in the majors as big-league hitters will eliminate that offering. It might even be his third-best pitch with the progress his big sweeping curve has made that is used to keeps lefties off-balance. Like most breaking balls, Gonzales will have to minimize leaving that pitch up or hanging it for big-league hitters to feast on.

The Cardinals plan on giving Gonzales a shot for the fifth spot in the rotation in the spring but he will have to outduel Carlos Martinez, who will be given every opportunity to win the job. I’d like to see Gonzales pitch every fifth day instead of being used as a lefty reliever, but the latter may be his role to start next season with the first opportunity at getting a few starts when injuries hit the rotation.

Brian Walton (1): The weighting of my vote is what carried Gonzales to the top in this year’s prospect ranking. It is pretty clear that the difference with Alex Reyes is present versus future. Gonzales has already shown he has a place in the Majors, including pitching out of the bullpen during the entire 2014 post-season. Reyes may one day surpass Gonzales, but is three levels away and needs more time to lock down his consistency.

For the organization, it is ideal from a timing perspective. As with Carlos Martinez in 2014, the Cardinals are likely going to need a year to shake out how to best use Gonzales. By that time, the next wave in pitching prospects in Reyes and Rob Kaminsky should be nearing St. Louis.

In the here and now, Gonzales’ only hope of making the rotation out of camp would seem to be an injury to another or a complete collapse by Martinez. Neither is impossible, but unlikely. If Gonzales’ and Martinez’ spring results are anywhere close, the more experienced Martinez will almost assuredly get the nod, as Carlos saw in 2014 when he out-pitched favored Joe Kelly, only to be returned to the bullpen.

Speaking of the bullpen, it would be Gonzales’ most likely stop – or would it? If the Cardinals insist on taking the best 12 pitchers north from Florida, then Gonzales should probably be among them. However, the reality is that the Major League club probably will not need Marco from the left side. For two, or at most three jobs, the team already has Randy Choate, Kevin Siegrist and Sam Freeman, not to mention Nick Greenwood, Tyler Lyons and wild card Jaime Garcia.

Speaking of Garcia, I don’t consider him a long-term rotation competitor. If he shows he can pitch anywhere near his prior level of effectiveness as a starter, I think he will be traded away. That would leave Gonzales as the top left-handed rotation candidate, head and shoulders over Lyons and Tim Cooney currently.

As many seem to agree, I would be in favor of starting Gonzales at Memphis to open 2015. The sheer quantity of experienced pitchers in big-league camp confirms that the Cardinals have a bit of a luxury to further groom Gonzales and they should take advantage of it. Remember that he was still down in A-Advanced Palm Beach last May and before he could even appear in the All-Star Futures Game, he was called up to St. Louis in June. Clearly, his future was accelerated in 2014.

I am considerably less excited about the approach used with Martinez last season in which he was moved back and forth between starting and relieving with St. Louis and Memphis multiple times during the course of the year. I’d prefer to see Gonzales exclusively deployed as a starter in 2015. At some point, he should become the lone lefty in St. Louis’ rotation, a spot that Garcia had previously filled.

For anyone worried that Gonzales might get stuck in Memphis and not receive the call to return to St. Louis in a timely manner, please consider this. No team goes through a season without some rotation churn. For example, last season 11 different pitchers started four or more games for St. Louis. (That total includes Gonzales, who made five regular season starts and five bullpen appearances.) In other words, Marco would be back soon enough with opportunity to impress and will likely arrive even better prepared than before.

Footnote: This week’s rumor that the Cardinals are continuing to pursue bringing in a front-line starter is not good news for Gonzales’ chances of reaching St. Louis’ rotation any time soon. Either Gonzales would lose his immediate opportunity, as the starting five would be set following the acquisition, or he could even be traded away.

Like many others who have commented on this matter, I see it as being unlikely. Still, I make its mention here as a footnote since it has a non-zero chance of occurring.

Our 2015 top 40 series continues: To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 40 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of the latter are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.

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