Looking back at the first half of our community prospect rankings, which was finished up earlier this week with Gilberto Jimenez taking the 10th spot, the list was unsurprisingly dominated by position players. The outfielder made it seven out of the 10 spots being taken up by hitters, with only three pitchers making the list. This has long been Boston’s MO on the farm, but it’s worth mentioning that the pitching has been getting better. A lot of that focus has been on the upper levels with good, but relatively low-ceiling arms. Well, there are some exciting arms down in the lower levels as well, perhaps no one more worth watching than Wilkelman Gonzalez. The right-handed pitcher came in at number 11 on our list, receiving 33 percent of the vote.
The Red Sox historically have not devoted a whole lot of resources to pitchers on the international market, but Gonzalez bucks that trend to some extent. Granted, he was not the kind of big money signing that highlights a July 2 class, but he received a six-figure bonus, getting $250,000 in the summer of 2018 coming out of Venezuela. That was still only the 10th highest bonus given out by Boston that year (the class was topped by outfielder Eduardo Lopez), but six figures is always at least somewhat of a significant bonus outlay.
He would, as most international prospects do, make his professional debut the next summer in the Dominican Summer League, and he immediately put himself on the map as a name to watch. Performances in the DSL are rarely enough to put a player on the top prospect map all by themselves, but they do separate some names to watch as they come stateside. For Gonzalez, he made 14 starts in that summer of 2019, pitching to a 3.30 ERA over 46 1⁄3 innings with 44 strikeouts and 24 walks. That control was a little shaky, but everything else was impressive for a pitcher in his age-17 season.
In terms of just helium and public perception, Gonzalez was among the Red Sox prospects most hurt by the cancellation of the 2020 minor-league season. It’s easy to remember the prospects who were at the Alternate Site and a few more of the very top prospects, but the lower level guys just getting ready to breakout are a little easier to forget as fans, especially given, ya know, everything else going on in our human society.
All of that helped the young righty sneak up on a whole lot of people last season when minor-league action picked back up again. As expected for a pitcher who has only been in the DSL to this point in his career, Gonzalez did hang back at camp to start the 2021 season, kicking off his game action in the Florida Complex League (formerly the Gulf Coast League). Once again, he opened some eyes with his results. Making eight appearances totaling 35 innings, the righty pitched to a 3.60 ERA, and more impressively had a 46/8 K/BB ratio. The control issues from the DSL appeared behind him and he dominated on the complex. It was enough for a taste of full-season ball before the end of the season, with Gonzalez making four starts over 17 2⁄3 innings in Salem, pitching to a 1.53 ERA with 20 strikeouts and eight walks.
He is only now going to be entering his age-20 season in the coming year, and he has yet to pitch close to a full season in affiliated ball, all of which is to say there is a long way to go. That said, there is also already a lot to be excited about, and he has a more polished arsenal than you’ll typically see from someone his age. The fastball is his best pitch as he sits in the low-to-mid-90s with the ability to get that up to the 96-97 range when he needs it, and also putting movement on the heat. He can lose command from time to time, but the building blocks are there. Gonzalez already has a solid changeup as well, which we know can often be the last pitch to come. That pitch does still need some refinement, to be fair, but it looks like it should be a real weapon. He also throws a couple of breaking balls with a slider and curveball, but one or the other will need to take a step forward to be a viable third pitch. Of course, there’s plenty of time for that.
Along with the needed development of that breaking pitch, the big concern with Gonzalez is just whether or not he’s going to hold up in a starter’s role over a full season. Again, we simply have not seen it yet. While he’s not exactly tiny on the mound, listed at 6’0, 180 pounds it’s not a huge frame, which will always lead to some injury concern. In addition, the delivery is not the cleanest and there’s some extra effort there. One of the things to watch for in the coming season, along with just the performance, is whether or not Gonzalez can clean up that delivery without sacrificing the effectiveness of his pitches. If he can, there’s real mid-rotation potential here, there’s just a long way to go.
That road will take a major step forward in the coming year with his full-season debut. After finishing last season in Salem, the expectation is that he’ll start back there as well in the coming year to try and keep up that performance from late last summer. If he performs well, a midseason promotion to Greenville would not be out of the question, but at 20 years old there won’t be any need to push him too aggressively.
Here’s our list so far:
- Triston Casas, 1B
- Marcelo Mayer, SS
- Nick Yorke, 2B
- Jarren Duran, OF
- Brayan Bello, RHP
- Bryan Mata, RHP
- Jeter Downs, 2B/SS
- Blaze Jordan, 3B/1B
- Jay Groome, LHP
- Gilberto Jimenez, OF
- Wilkelman Gonzalez, RHP
Now, you can head down into the comments and vote for the number 12 prospect. As a reminder, to do this you go down below and find the comment from me corresponding with the player for whom you’d like to vote. When you find said player, just click the “rec” button, and that will count your vote. To do this, you will need to be logged in as a member of the site. If you’d like to vote for a player who is not listed, just leave a comment saying “Vote for ___ here” and I’ll rec the comment to count your vote. We encourage discussion, of course, but please don’t comment under specific players’ names. Instead, scroll to the bottom to start a new comment thread in order to keep the players at the top of the comment section. Until next time...