ST. LOUIS, Mo (BaseballStL) -- When spring training arrives in February, the Cardinals are going to have a lot of different names to juggle as far as who to put in the bullpen. There appears to be a lot more depth on the left-handed side than usual. That may lead the front office to strongly consider putting a third lefty in the ‘pen as opposed to just two (with five righties).
Randy Choate is still here (for now). Kevin Siegrist has closer type stuff when he’s at his best (and healthy). Sam Freeman is good (when he’s throwing strikes). And let’s not forget Tyler Lyons and Nick Greenwood are still developing nicely.
Oh, there’s one more. His name is Marco Gonzales. He was the Cardinals 1st round pick in 2013 and skyrocketed to the big leagues Michael Wacha-style this past season.
After struggling for a few starts when brought up out of necessity in June and July Gonzales returned to the parent club in late August and was absolutely outstanding. Over seven games – including two starts – from August 30th to the end of the regular season the Colorado native pitched 20.2 innings. During that time he gave up just 11 hits (.153 opponents’ batting average), five runs (2.18 ERA) and struck out 21 (that’s one an inning).
The 22-year old parlayed that into a postseason roster spot in which he did not disappoint. Gonzales went 5.1 innings without giving up a single run before having a rough Game 4 against the Giants in the NLCS. The struggles that day easily could be translated to throwing so much over a short period of time. Gonzales is a starter, not a reliever. He’s not used to doing anything but pitching every five days on a routine.
Now the question is what to do with him in 2015. Obviously, the guy is good enough to pitch in the big leagues. Heck, he was easily the team’s best lefty in October this past postseason. But with Adam Wainwright, Lance Lynn, John Lackey, Michael Wacha and Carlos Martinez all earmarked for starting spots next year it’s hard to envision Gonzales cracking the rotation out of spring barring an injury.
So, is it better for the Cardinals and Gonzales’ development to have him in the big league bullpen next year or further growing as a starter down in Memphis? That’s the key. Which is more important? What’s best for the Cardinals or what’s best for Marco’s long term development?
Well, the benefits of having Gonzales in St. Louis’ bullpen next year are easy to see. First, he’d help the big league team. That’s what this is all about right? Get to the Major Leagues and help your organization win a World Series? You can’t do that in the minors. Second, having him in the bullpen would make it easier to limit his innings. That’s because when the inevitable injury comes to a starter and Gonzales is put into the rotation he’ll have a lot more innings left in him for the year.
There are also benefits to putting Gonzales in AAA-Memphis though. Mainly, messing with someone as a reliever doesn’t allow them to work on their craft as much. If you’re throwing an inning at a time you don’t have enough pitches to practice your third pitch. That’s because out of the bullpen you just need two pitches to succeed.
For Gonzales, we all know his change-up is dynamite. It’s the curveball that needs work. If he’s starting in Memphis he can work on it several innings at a time and on a routine like he’s used to. That’ll make him better in the long term. If he’s working out of the Cardinals’ bullpen, however, he will largely get by on his fastball and change-up. There’s no time to work on a developing curveball in the majors. That’s what the minors are for.
The other benefit to having Gonzales in AAA is he’d be able to make a seamless transition to the starting rotation in St. Louis when the inevitable injury happens. Remember Carlos Martinez last year? He started the season in the bullpen as Trevor Rosenthal’s setup man before becoming a starter in the middle of the year once injuries hit. That didn’t go so well for him. He had to build up stamina in St. Louis and never really got into a groove.
Is there a correlation between Martinez last year and Gonzales this year? Maybe, maybe not. Is there a possibility Martinez would have pitched better as a starter last year had he been working on a starter’s routine the entire season? Possibly. Obviously, we’ll never know. But it’s certainly worth thinking about.
A big decision looms for the Cardinals with Marco Gonzales. He’ll pitch a lot in St. Louis next year (especially as a starter when injuries occur) but the question remains what role – and where – he’ll be until that point hits.