The front office added a pitcher on Opening Day for the second year in a row. Before you start throwing things, just know this isn’t round two of the Greg Holland-dumpster-fire experiment. Rather, the Cardinals claimed 23-year old right hander Merandy Gonzalez off waivers from the Giants. To clear space, Brett Cecil was moved to the 60-Day IL.
An interesting move to be sure, but not a groundbreaker by any means. On the surface, it seems we’ve just added a young tweener prospect with a spotty minor league track record. Did I mention he’s on his fourth organization in three seasons? Upon further inspection, however, this is a savvy waiver claim to get a closer look at a guy with potentially untapped arm talent.
Who is Merandy Gonzalez?
If you missed the last Hunt and Peck, Skyricesq did a terrific rundown of Gonzalez’s journey. You can find the Fanpost here. For those of you in a hurry, I’ll give you the sparknotes version.
The Mets signed Gonzalez out of the Dominican Republic as a 17-year old in 2013. He kicked around in rookie ball for three seasons, posting good but not great strikeout and walk rates. In 2016 he was promoted to the short-season Brooklyn Cyclones, where his raw stuff started to materialize into results. Across 14 starts that year, he struckout just over a batter per inning and posted a 2.87 ERA. The statistical breakout continued in Single-A and High-A in 2017, before being sent to Miami as part of the A.J. Ramos deal.
The Marlins rushed him to the big leagues in 2018, and he struggled to keep the ball in the park against more advanced competition. He ended up being yo-yo’d between the majors and minors all season, en route to a 5.73 ERA and -0.1 fWAR over 22 innings.
Fast forward to this February, and the Marlins tried to pass him through waivers only to see the Giants pounce. He threw one inning in Giants camp before being optioned to Triple-A and ultimately outrighted on March 25.
Gonzalez has been trotted out as a starter to this point in his career, save the long relief appearances for the Marlins. He was actually quite successful as a rotation piece in the Mets organization, but being rushed by Miami has stunted his development to the point where he’s likely relief only.
At 6’0, 206lbs, he’s undersized for a starter and scouts have projected him as a relief candidate for some time. The delivery is a bit violent, coming from a high 3⁄4 slot with a tinge of a head whack, but he’s athletic enough to repeat it consistently. It’s a bit reminiscent of Milwaukee’s Freddy Peralta, albeit with a more compact arm stroke and without the monster extension.
What he lacks in deceptiveness from Peralta, he makes up for in velocity. As a starter he sat 92-94 with his four seamer, but in relief he can crank it up to 95-97. Movement wise it’s a bit lifeless, with spin rates around league average and neither sinking nor “rising” action. There’s a bit of cut to it at times, but not enough to consistently miss bats. His short arm action adds a bit of funk, however, and he’s had success when he locates consistently. In all it’s a 55 grade offering, with plus potential if the command ticks up.
He threw three offspeed offerings on his way up the ladder - a curve, a cutter and a change. The curve is the best of the bunch, sitting in the low-80’s with above average spin rates. It’s an 11-5 breaker that he can locate to his arm side to steal strikes or bury glove side off the plate for swinging strikes. He still struggles to stay on the top of the pitch at times, but when it’s on it’s an above-average offering. The cutter sits low-90’s and with solid movement, and I’d probably keep it in the arsenal out the pen to add a wrinkle to his fastball. His changeup is fringey at best, with good velocity differential and fade but almost no drop. Add in the fact that he doesn’t command the change all that well, and it’s easy to make the case to scrap the offering entirely.
Had he not been sent south in the Ramos deal and instead been brought along steadily, it’s likely he would’ve made the incremental changeup and fastball command improvements to stick as a #4/#5 starter. Miami (and for the life of me, I cannot explain why), in the burn-it-down phase of a rebuild, decided to force him into a swingman role on a team with no conceivable chance of winning. Yes, he needed to be protected from the Rule V Draft. But if you’re very clearly not trying to win, and your window of contention is still very much off in the horizon, why in the world would you burn a potential future asset to soak up innings in the near term? Now he’s a man with burnt options, occupying a 40-man spot despite not yet being entirely ready for the show.
Regardless, he has the arm talent to stick in a middle relief role at the big league level. The slimmest of silver linings from the ongoing Brett Cecil saga is that we get to audit this talented arm up close. He’s far from the next man up in the bullpen, and honestly there’s other middle relief candidates I’d push into service first (hello, Giovanny Gallegos), but long-term he’s got an option beyond 2019 and a fastball-curve combo that’ll play. Well worth the waiver claim.