School: Gonzaga University
Selected 2015 stats
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (3): Marco Gonzales was something of an enigma during the community vote. His injuries this year really put a damper on our ability to rest some of the major league starters toward the end of the year.
Jhp21 posted that Marco has the potential to be a solid back-end rotation guy. Nbr1hawkeye said that when comparing Gonzales to fellow prospect, Jack Flaherty, Flaherty is two or more years behind Gonzales and both have high ceilings, but Flaherty probably has the edge on that. Forsch31 said he had to downgrade Gonzales due to his injury history this year. He believes Gonzales didn’t return from the injury as the same pitcher that we saw last year.
During the vote, I mentioned that I read that Gonzales began learning some new pitches this year, which would explain the early season issues, more so than a somewhat minor pectoral injury. The new pitches could be a good thing for his development since he struggled badly when pitching to a lineup the third time around as they time his sinker/changeup combo. - Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (6): The Cardinal Nation's top overall prospect last winter saw his luster fade after an injury-plagued season due to a shoulder impingement that led to him being shut down twice by the Cardinals. The southpaw competed for a rotation spot on the Cardinals in spring training, but he opened the season at Memphis and made a lone spot-start in St. Louis.
Gonzales, 23, was limited to just 14 starts at Triple-A and recorded a career-worst 4.69 ERA in 18 total starts in the minors, including four rehab starts between High-A Palm Beach and Double-A Springfield. When he was on the mound, evaluators noted Gonzales lacked sharpness behind his pitches and his stuff was flatter, leading to harder contact. Obviously, that can be attributed to the rigors of high-level pitching with a lack of strength in his shoulder throughout the year.
When healthy and at his best, the former two-way All-American at Gonzaga repeats an effortless delivery and offers an underwhelming, but average fastball (88-91 mph) with plus control. To achieve effectiveness throughout any outing and avoid the slim margin of error, he must command and regularly jump ahead in counts to set up his calling card - double-plus change-up which has carried him to this point and the pitch that will take him as far as it can. The same pitch that is especially devastating when he possesses optimal fastball command.
Gonzales can also play the change-up off a sinker and cutter to give the opposition a different look at the plate. To further complement his repertoire, he mixes a big sweeping mid-70s curveball often to lefties but is susceptible to get lifted by righty hitters given the lack of a hard break. Without elite swing-and-miss stuff, Gonzales' ceiling is limited to a back-end starter while scouts now have doubts about his shoulder and durability.
If his shoulder continues to flare up, a potential relief role shouldn’t be overlooked, given how well he took to it during the 2014 postseason. Though I would bet the Cardinals give their former first-round pick every opportunity to start for maximized value.
While both are similar in terms of upside and style, fellow lefty Tim Cooney outperformed Gonzales in the majors and has no track record of shoulder injuries. As mentioned before, Cooney is at present best positioned to contribute in St. Louis right now while Gonzales will need to prove his health and readiness over a lengthy stretch as a starter -- not only for a month of spring training camp, but also during the regular season for Memphis in 2016.
Brian Walton (3): Any vote for (or against) Gonzales cannot be made in a vacuum, but instead has to take into account some kind of assumption about his health.
The problem is that there is no certainty. No matter what is said between now and then - whether by the player, his coaches or even doctors - what really matters is what happens when the 23-year-old takes the mound in the spring.
Among our three voters, Derek is least optimistic, but I can certainly understand why. I consider my #3 vote a middle ground position. What I mean is that if I was sure Gonzales is back to where he was in 2014, he would be my very clear #2 in my top 40 ranking. No doubt about it.
In fact, those TCN members who follow my monthly Cardinals prospect rankings during the season may recall my stubbornness on this matter. Until Gonzales’ shoulder problems stretched into several months, I kept him in the #1 ranking that he held coming into the season. It was partially due to his polish and readiness for the Majors and partially due to Alex Reyes being an unfinished product.
Ultimately, I relented when it was clear that Gonzales was still not himself even after returning from the disabled list.
It is a far cry from how the season opened. Coming off the Cardinals Minor League Pitcher of the Year award in 2014 and winning two games over the Dodgers in the National League Division Series, Gonzales seemed a favorite to win the open fifth starter competition in 2015 spring training.
Though Jaime Garcia surged ahead, his late March relapse knocked him out of contention. In my opinion, Gonzales outpitched the third rotation candidate, Carlos Martinez, in spring camp, but the more experienced hurler in Martinez was given the spot.
Still, it seemed just a matter of time until Gonzales was back with St. Louis. Instead, while ample opportunities to start presented themselves during the 2015 season, his injury had knocked him out of the race.
Fellow left-handers Tyler Lyons and Tim Cooney passed him by, with the two of them combining to make 14 starts for the Cardinals, while Gonzales managed just one, an unimpressive outing on September 1. Marco was returned to Memphis the next day and did not come back, even though rosters were expanded.
Yet St. Louis must still have big plans for Gonzales, as an off-season rumor out of Denver had the Cardinals refusing to include the Fort Collins native in a possible trade for Rockies outfielder Carlos Gonzalez.
It seems most likely that even if Gonzales is healthy in the spring, he will need to go back to Memphis to fully rebuild his strength and momentum. In essence, that is right where he was 12 months ago, but without his 2014 wave of success to ride on. Another alternative would be St. Louis’ bullpen, but it appears he is blocked by Lyons.
Our 2016 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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