photo: Derian Gonzalez (Kim Klement/USA TODAY Sports)
The Cardinal Nation’s top 50 prospect countdown for 2019 opens with a 40-man roster reliever who showed promise when not injured in 2018.
By The Cardinal Nation staff
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Link to Derian Gonzalez’ player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.
Selected 2018 stats
TCN Scouting Grade: 3.5, Risk: high (click here to review scales)
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (51): Derian Gonzalez was selected as the 51st player in the Cardinal Nation community vote. That was a slight rise from last year when Gonzalez was chosen by the community as the 58th best prospect, however, that is a drop from 2017 when Gonzalez sneaked into the top 30. Gonzalez received support during this years’ vote at #43 from Robert Reed.
Just a couple years ago, posters from the community like Cardinal27 and SoonerinNC were debating as to whether Gonzalez was in the same class as Sandy Alcantara and Ryan Helsley. Robert Reed noted, back then, that Gonzalez had a penchant for avoiding giving up the long ball as he had only given up two in 250 professional innings. This year, Robert Reed chided the Triple-A manager, Stubby Clapp, for leaving Gonzalez in a game to throw nearly 50 pitches after a promising start to the season. Reed believed this led to Gonzalez’ injury-riddled season. Wiley was next on board from the community positing that Gonzalez is one clearly one of the organization’s favorites. Grenadier1 believes that a healthy Gonzalez is going to be probably be in the St. Louis bullpen by years’ end. – Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (52): Gonzalez at one time had the helium to join Alex Reyes and Sandy Alcantara as Latin American flamethrowers rising quickly through the system, but his progress hasn’t worked out that way.
Still just 23, Gonzalez suffered his second straight season with a myriad of injuries, opening the year at Triple-A Memphis due to injuries at the upper levels. After posting a 5.91 ERA over eight games with Memphis, the Venezuelan went down with an undisclosed injury on May 3 that cost him a month and half.
When he was deemed ready to start throwing again by late-June, Gonzalez made six rehab starts for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals and was assigned to Double-A Springfield on July 20. The right-hander had a 4-0 record and 2.76 ERA in 13 games for Springfield before he finished the season on the DL with an elbow injury.
“(He is) 94, 95, and 96 (on his fastball) with a real 12-6 breaking ball,” Springfield manager Johnny Rodriguez said. “He is a guy that (came back) to us and helped out of the bullpen.”
Scouting-wise, Gonzalez, who saw a velocity bump after he moved to the bullpen with High-A Palm Beach in 2017, touches 97 as a full-time reliever now. His heater is of the high-spin variety which moves, especially when it is up in the zone and he elevates.
His best pitch is an above-average curveball which features hard, 12-6 action that he can bury down and out of the zone for swings and misses. He is also said to have a changeup, but his fastball/curveball combination make him a solid middle reliever to seventh-inning man in the near future.
That said, his biggest deficiencies have always been throwing consistent strikes and staying healthy, so those will be two key factors in his development going forward.
Gonzalez should return to Memphis in 2019.
Brian Walton (43): Among our three voters, I am most optimistic about Gonzalez, or should I say that I downgraded him the least since last year at this time?
Those who read my thoughts regularly know that I analyze the behavior of the Cardinals organization very carefully, as I have found time and time again that it can be very telling. As noted, Gonzalez was shifted to relief in August 2017. Still, his potential was considered to be high enough that he received a 40-man roster spot last November.
In the spring of 2018, Gonzalez earned his way onto the Memphis roster despite never having pitched an inning at Double-A. This is significant – just one step below the feat successfully executed by Jordan Hicks at the same time.
With the Redbirds, the right-hander was used in long relief, which is not surprising to me, given his heritage as a starter. After a rough outing on Opening Day, Gonzalez logged five scoreless appearances totaling 8 1/3 innings on just one hit and three walks.
Then came the 45-pitch game, on April 22. He yielded two runs in each of his next two appearances before spending the next two months on the disabled list.
His rehab was relatively long, consisting of six outings from late June into the second half of July. Predictably, Gonzalez dominated the rookie-level hitters in the Gulf Coast League. Still, his rehab may have continued, as he was not deemed ready to return to Memphis, but was instead placed at the level he initially skipped, Double-A Springfield.
Other than one bad outing, on August 15, during which he allowed three runs, Gonzalez utterly dominated Texas League hitters over the final six weeks of the season. The only yellow flag was a diminished strikeout rate, just 5.5 per nine innings, compared to his career mark of 9.0 prior. Is that a signal of a problem or an indication he is becoming more than a hard thrower?
I dropped his scouting grade slightly from last year – from “4 high” to “3.5 high”. Despite the injuries, Gonzalez stepped up from high-A in 2017 to demonstrate success at both Double-A and Triple-A in 2018. He finished his year strongly and should have momentum heading into 2019. Further, he still has two option years remaining. The big question is health. I agree with the community member who believes we could see a healthy Gonzalez with St. Louis sooner than later.
Our 2019 top 50 series continues
To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 50 countdown and 10 in-depth, follow-up articles coming up next. Most of them are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation. If you are not a member, join today so you do not miss out!
Also, join the daily discussion about each prospect at The Cardinal Nation’s free message board.
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