After signing Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jimenez in the 2013 offseason, the Orioles were left without a draft pick in the first two rounds of the 2014 draft. With the 90th pick in that draft, the Orioles selected lefty Brian Gonzalez out of Archbishop McCarthy High School in the Miami suburb of Southwest Ranches, Florida. Gonzalez was not, perhaps, the most obvious choice at #90 given that he was ranked #386 pre-draft by Baseball America. Shortly after the draft, Gonzalez explained a bit about his approach to Steve Melewski “My dad didn’t let me throw a curveball until I was in high school, so been developing my changeup and having a feel for that ever since I was 11 or 12.”
In his 2015 Orioles prospect review, John Sickels described Gonzalez as “...not classically projectable with big body (6-3, 230 or 250 depending on what listing you believe) but could end up the best of the bunch not named Bundy or Harvey.”
Gonzalez’s professional career got off to a decent start. Gonzalez struck out 25 in 24.2 for the Gulf Coast League Orioles, though he also allowed five earned runs in two starts at Aberdeen. Gonzalez was bumped up to Delmarva in 2015 and didn’t meet the same level of performance established at the GCL. Gonzalez pitched 103 innings across 23 starts to a 5.71 ERA, but he did show a knack for inducing groundballs (40.8%). Some people might have seen a big bodied high school pitcher and suffered from Matt Hobgood flashbacks. His first season at Delmarva would have done little to ease your worried mind. The Warehouse braintrust, in its infinite wisdom, decided to have Gonzalez repeat at Delmarva and their decision appears to have been rewarded.
At the end of the day, Gonzalez was named a 2016 South Atlantic League Post-Season All-Star, while never racking up a pitcher of the week award. How did he do it? By honing his ability to induce grounders (51%), though his swinging strike out rates were fairly consistent between 2015 and 2016 (77% and 75%). Gonzalez was 10-8 with 2.50 ERA. While that ERA was good for third in the league, Gonzalez’s 4.01 FIP was well behind those posted by Cristian Alvarado and Reid Love.
At the tender age of 20, Gonzalez still has a chance to live up to the promise suggested by John Sickels and it will be interesting to see if he is able to handle the next step up in competition over the course of a single season. In any case, if the whole starting thing doesn’t work out, there are other uses for big lefties that can get groundballs.
Stats from fangraphs, StatCorner and MiLB.com