Phillies’ starting pitching prospect Severino Gonzalez will make his big league debut against the Cardinals on Tuesday. It’s not an ideal matchup, but Gonzalez has earned the chance after going 1-1 with a 3.57 ERA in three starts for Triple-A Lehigh this season.
Gonzalez has shown back-end of the rotation potential with excellent command over the strike zone, walking only 1.5 batters per nine innings and the ability to be a workhorse down the stretch, already pitching 415 innings despite only being 22 years old.
Gonzalez has quickly risen through the Phillies system since being signed out of Panama in 2011.
Gonzalez was far from lights out in Double-A last season, starting 27 games and posting a 4.59 ERA in 158 and 2/3 innings. He did, however, come close to posting a 4 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio, something that Philadelphia hopes is an indication of future success.
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Although he doesn’t strike out batters at a high rate, he has three average to plus pitches that keep him in games. His cutter, undoubtedly his best pitch, resides in the low 90s and has the type of movement that at worst could give him a chance to stick in the bullpen long-term.
Because of its advanced level, the Phillies instructed him not to throw it and instead focus on his change-up. As a result, his change-up has progressed tremendously to the point where it has become an integral part of his ability to keep hitters off balance. That of course occurred at the cost of his effectiveness in Double-A, but Gonzalez understood it “was a work in progress”.
His curveball, when mixed in well, is effective with good movement, but he’ll leave it up in the zone occasionally, making it very hittable. No matter the pitch, however, his efficiency will be predicated upon keeping the ball down in the zone.
Along with a solid repertoire, Gonzalez has a strong resume to his credit as he was the Phillies’ 2013 minor league pitcher of the year after dominating the Venezuelan Summer League the two prior years. During those two years he posted a sub-two ERA with a 13:1 strikeout to walk ratio. In 2013, he added some velocity to his fastball while posting a strong 1.69 ERA and .61 WHIP in four starts in Class-A Lakewood and 2.02 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in nine starts and 11 relief appearances in High-A Clearwater.
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During Spring Training Gonzalez pitched well enough to merit consideration for a call-up this season, including a strong three-inning outing against the Braves, for which he earned applause from manager Ryne Sandberg.
"“He had a great pace of game, a great tempo, threw a lot of strikes,” manager Ryne Sandberg said according to Philly.com. “He mixed his pitches well. I really liked how he got the sign and just delivered the pitch.”"
Although the Phillies thought a call-up would be closer to September, injuries have sped up that plan.
Although Gonzalez will be making a spot start this week, he could get a longer look if he pitches better than expected. The Phillies are short on starters after the underwhelming Sean O’Sullivan was placed on the disabled list on Wednesday and Gonzalez has the capability to eat innings and get outs, something Philadelphia is going to need all season.
Despite Gonzalez’s early success as a starter, he still has a long journey to go in terms of defining his role in the majors. Although he’d likely be far more successful in a park more conducive to fly ball pitchers, he’ll get his chance to show his worth to an organization in desperate need of it.