Prospects. What are they?
Okay, I like prospects. I like projections and scouting reports. I am horny for future values and optimistic outlooks. I decided that now until whenever I grow bored of the exercise I am going to pluck a prospect from the Red Sox organization and tell you a little more about them.
Today's prospect, and first installment in this series is Venezuelan hurler Wilkelman Gonzalez!
The Physical Profile
Wilkelman Gonzalez is listed at a flat six foot, 180 pounds though my guess is he's closer to 170. He's a wiry, slender kid that certainly has some projection left on his frame. He's not exactly Marcus Stroman height wise, but he is going to need to bulk up if he is going to eventually pitch in the starting rotation. Still, he has a loose and athletic delivery, strictly from the stretch as of right now. If he doesn't get any bigger as he matures he's probably a reliever.
At just 19 years old, Gonzalez is further along than you might think. I'll get to his stuff in a moment, but the word is his feel for pitching is more advanced than a lot of arms his age. Gonzalez was really good at fall instructs last year, to the point Fangraphs had considered listing him on the Sox top prospects list. He features a mid 90s fastball (I've seen 92-95 and 94-96, the latter figure from this past fall) and a very good curveball with two-plane break and better than average bite. There is some disagreement on the changeup. One report calls it a clear third pitch badly in need of work, however Fangraphs has it as a plus pitch already with really nice downward action. The fastball is perhaps most intriguing, with the potential for plus velo to go along with what I've heard described as having a unique angle with good armside run.
It's the frame. Gonzalez isn't going to fill out to a point where you'll ever feel great about his durability or ability to give you 175+ innings. Smaller pitchers are always a risk, especially when they come into the organization so young. Granted, the stuff plays really well so long term risk is more that he'll end up a reliever than not make it at all.
There's a very limited sample on Gonzalez, but in his 61.2 pro innings he's posted a 3.79 ERA (which is a bloated due to a bad outing on July 5) with 69 K's to just 26 base on balls'. After that mess on July 5 Gonzalez posted back to back outings where he struck out a total of 18 batters over ten innings and allowing a total of four hits with no walks to speak of. Gonzalez actually didn't allow a hit in the July 12 game against the Rays, which speaks to his ability to bounce back after a bad outing. Though it should be noted, his five innings came in a relief role in that game.
Repeat after me, there is no such thing as a pitching prospect. These guys are so hard to project. Jay Groome looked as can't miss as could be and he's been in the news more for his weight and injuries than any actual on field growth. Gonzalez, optimistically, could be a back end/middle of the rotation guy if his command continues to improve and his changeup proves to be a truly plus pitch. I think his frame precludes him from ever being a front line, inning eating type of guy. Less optimistically, there's a chance his delivery is simply too high effort to sustain and he becomes a reliever before he ever gets to the upper minors. The x factor for him will be how well he handles the workload as he develops a better feel for pitching. His stuff, which is already a legit three pitch mix with room to get better, combined with improved feel could be very, very good. My realistic ceiling for him is a number 3 starter, a realistic floor being a single inning reliever.
Gonzalez has a lot of work to do before we can start talking about next steps. This season's development is going to be vital, and he'll need to refine his stuff against competition outside the Sox organization. On the face of it, he has the raw ingredients to be really good, but the command has been volatile at times. He's so far away that it's almost silly to be putting projections on him, but I think if the development goes well you could see him fall 2023 or Spring Training 2024.