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Determining Marco Gonzales’ upcoming bullpen role?

NLCS - San Francisco Giants v St Louis Cardinals - Game One Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

There’s no such thing as a pitching prospect. More often than not, this cruel statement finds a way to hold true. Taken 19th overall by the Cardinals in the 2013 MLB Draft, Marco Gonzales, a polished southpaw out of Gonzaga University, fit the mold almost perfectly for a Michael Wacha-like rise through the farm system. Unfortunately, Gonzales appears to have followed Wacha’s lead too literally — successfully reaching St. Louis one season after being drafted only to be slowed by a significant throwing arm injury soon thereafter.

Gonzales has not pitched in an MLB game since September 1st, 2015 against the Washington Nationals — when he was inexplicably given the starting nod despite showing very clearly that something was not right at Triple-A (14 games, 5.45 ERA). Well, if you have forgotten about Gonzales, who was ranked #50 and #52 by Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, respectively, prior to the 2015 season, our own Josey Curtis checked in on him last month.

And as I typically do, let’s revisit his repertoire:

Marco Gonzales’ Repertoire (via BrooksBaseball)

Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (MPH)
Pitch Type Frequency Velocity (MPH)
Fourseamer 52.99% 90.49
Sinker 5.21% 90.53
Changeup 26.05% 79.39
Slider 6.86% 85.10
Curveball 8.89% 75.24

With five different pitches to pull from, Gonzales possesses what you can consider a “starter’s repertoire.” In the bullpen, a pitcher can get away with one or two pitches, but when a pitcher (i.e. starting pitcher) faces a hitter multiple times per game, a deeper repertoire is necessary. With this in mind, coupled with the fact that Gonzales’ injury and subsequent rehabilitation may have altered his repertoire, we do not yet know what to expect from the still 24-year-old this season.

If you are looking for a detailed analysis of Gonzales’ repertoire as we know it, I already comprehensively worked through that last offseason (and he hasn’t pitched since), using Tim Cooney, who is now part of the Cleveland Indians organization, as a comparator. As you can see, Gonzales, and his ~90 MPH fastballs, will not blow any hitters away — a dissimilar approach from the rest of his bullpen mates. However, given how slow he throws his changeup, 89-90 MPH feels a tick or two faster to opposing hitters. Both of his breaking balls project to be average to slightly above average, but post Tommy John surgery, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them (likely the slider) is scrapped from this repertoire.

Regarding role, let’s go with what we know. The starting rotation, though full of question marks, appears set for the beginning of 2017: Carlos Martinez, Alex Reyes, Lance Lynn, Adam Wainwright, and Mike Leake. Should something happen to one of those five, Michael Wacha and Luke Weaver (who I believe should start the season in Triple-A) appear to be the “next men up.”

This leaves Gonzales destined for a bullpen role, should he prove healthy and effective enough during spring to make the opening day roster. At present, Gonzales isn’t even listed on the Cardinals official team website’s depth chart, but they list six starting pitchers and six healthy relievers, so, using basic math, there isn’t even a guaranteed spot for Marco. Plus, there, too, exists a fantasy land where Jordan Schafer “might be the hero we need.”

I don’t know about you, but I can’t help but get excited about a bullpen consisting of Seung Hwan Oh, (a revitalized) Trevor Rosenthal, Brett Cecil, Kevin Siegrist, Matt Bowman, and Gonzales. And then, of course, there’s Jonathan Broxton. If it were up to me, I’d relieve Broxton of his duties, leaving room for both Gonzales and Wacha in the bullpen, but he is owed $3.75 million, so that almost certainly won’t happen prior to the season.

Where do you Gonzales fitting into the Cardinals’ 2017 puzzle?