Picture Courtesy: Angel Ibo Castillo
Originally, the Phillies fan base was under the impression that they had signed Cuban pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a six-year, $50 million deal in the middle of the summer. Then, issues with Gonzalez's arm seemed to halt the deal and opened him back up on the market. Finally, at the end of August, the team agreed to a 3-year, $12 million deal with the right handed pitcher. Since that time, MAG's role on this squad seemed to spiral downward, moving from a possible third starter to a minor league bullpen arm. With so many questions already surrounding this team, where does Miguel sit at this moment?
For starters, you need to learn a bit more about Gonzalez heading into training camp. Just last week, Ryan Lawrence posted an interview with the pitcher on philly.com. In said interview, MAG claims to be both 100% healthy and unconcerned about stamina after not pitching for two seasons. He is open to being a pitcher in any role, wherever the Phillies decide to use him. He was, in fact, in the bullpen with Cuba in the playoffs after starting all season long. Gonzalez also says that, since he started throwing on January 6th, his pitches have more speed and movement on them.
Things sounded pretty good. Gonzalez felt his strength improving, and he seemed eager to get into whatever position manager Ryne Sandberg decided to use him in. Skip ahead a few days, though, and a new tune was playing in Clearwater, Florida. Mike Axisa of CBS Sports reported arm strength was actually a huge issue, not an improving asset, for the Cuban. He made a reference to the original issues the team had in signing Miguel (arm issues) back last July as a possible recurrence now. MAG's work with the Phillies organization was already delayed once. He was set to start throwing with the squad in Florida last September. However, it took until October for him to get going.
As Axisa points out, arm strength really isn't something you normally worry about in early Spring Training. However, when a pitcher's contract was delayed because of elbow concerns, and he hasn't pitched in two years, it has to be a red flag. For new pitching coach Bob McClure, however, these concerning signs aren't too present. According to CSN's Jim Salisbury, following Saturday's bullpen session, McClure had this to say:
“He looked more fluid today. He threw a little longer, playing long toss. He got a little looser. He looked better today.”
Now, take this with a bit of caution. Do you really think anyone within the organization would come out with a concerning remark on any of the players? Plus, Salisbury also goes on to mention that Gonzalez has not had the best stuff on the mound in two bullpen sessions, and has failed to consistently throw strikes thus far.
Let's not forgot how highly scouted the pitcher was before signing here. David Murphy makes mention of several clubs that had some sort of interest in Gonzalez when he was on the open market. Bob Engle, international scout for the Dodgers, revealed that his team had been watching MAG since 2010. The Marlins were interested in his services as a third or fourth starter, but didn't believe they had the money to bring him in. Even the Cubs were interested, discussing a possible four-to-five year deal after they missed out on Japanese pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu. At the time, he was seen as a guy who could help a club immediately. My, how things have turned.
Statistically speaking, what should we expect from Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez? Well, that's extremely difficult to say. Since his last full season was in 2011, there is very little to base projection on. However, that will not stop people from trying. First, though, his latest numbers. Over at FanGraphs.com, Carson Cistulli put forth Gonzalez's 2011 stat line (with a reference to Clay Devenport) in a breakdown of rookie pitchers in the 2014 MLB season. 106.0 IP, 5.20 K/9, 3.50 BB/9, 1.40 HR/9, 6.13 ERA are where he stood. Not nearly as impressive as you might expect, given his earlier hype. Cistulli did not venture a prediction on MAG's season.
One of the cool features on FanGraphs is the ability of fans to make their season predictions from a statistical standpoint. The fan predictions are averaged out, and you have a some-what realistic look at what a player's season may entail. For Gonzalez, his fan projected 2014 performance looks like this: 8-8, 137.0 IP, 7.23 K/9, 2.96 BB/9, 0.92 HR/9, 4.00 ERA, 1.4 WAR. To me, these numbers seem a bit optimistic for a player in such a situation.
While he, as you may have guessed by this point, has no idea where MAG will wind up this season, Marc Hulet has Gonzalez at number four on his top-10 prospect list for the Phillies. Again, it seems that no one wants to make a prediction for Miguel's future, but seem to think he'll be a productive player.
Personally, I've changed my mind on Gonzalez several times. I could see him taking the five spot in the rotation, but I could also picture him closing games in AAA. Site owner Frank Klose projects MAG as the closer of the future for the Phillies. While I see Jake Diekman possibly filling that role, it's not absurd to imagine Gonzalez wind up there. I do believe, though, that Gonzalez will certainly see at least some time in the majors. As the next six weeks move along, we'll have a more clear picture on the Cuban pitcher.