Just about a year ago, the Phillies made the decision to sign 27-year-old Cuban exile Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a $12 million deal. Since then, much about the pitcher remains a mystery, though some parts are becoming clearer.
Gonzalez has been pitching as a reliever for Double A Reading after making eight appearances for Single A Clearwater. In three relief outings for the Fightin’ Phils, Gonzalez has allowed one run with nine strikeouts in five innings.
More importantly, the old life on Gonzalez’s fastball has returned.
“Right now we’re trying to get him in a role where he has some success, because his arm strength is coming back,” Phillies minor league director Joe Jordan told Comcast SportsNet's John Boruk on Tuesday. “I saw him get up to 96, 97-mph last week, which is nice.”
Gonzalez also has a changeup and curve, according to Jordan. However, Jordan wasn’t ready to say the Phillies were only considering the pitcher to be strictly a reliever. The idea, for now, is to get Gonzalez into some interesting situations.
“We’re going to try to get him in the middle of the action and the bullpen is the easiest place to do it right now,” Jordan said. “We’re not trying to lengthen him out right now — it’s two, maybe three innings some time and we’ll see where it goes from there.”
Gonzalez climbed to Double A before he had a chance to spend more playing time with last year’s first-round pick, J.P. Crawford, and this year’s top pick, Aaron Nola. Crawford, a shortstop, struggled for a bit when he joined Clearwater. But after a brief adjustment period, Crawford was back to his old self.
In his last 10 games, Crawford has 10 hits, three homers, five RBIs and seven runs.
“J.P. can really play the game — all facets of it,” Jordan said. “Base running, defense, hitting, he has a really good IQ for the game.”
Crawford batted .295 for Low-A Lakewood before his promotion. Jordan said the plan is to get Crawford the same number of at-bats at Clearwater as he got in Lakewood.
“We wanted to keep him challenged. So we promoted him and we wanted to get him the same number of at-bats in both [low-A and high-A] this year,” Jordan said. “We thought he could handle it. He struggled with it initially and he made the adjustments necessary for the league.
‘I like his whole game. I think he has a chance to be a complete, all-around player.”
The early returns on Nola have been equally as good, if not better. Though he pitched for LSU this season and is making the adjustment to pitching every five days as opposed to every seven, Nola has impressed the Phillies’ brass.
In fact, Jordan said there is a pretty good chance Nola will pitch for Reading before the season ends.
“Our main goal right now is to get him used to our throwing routine,” Jordan said. “We’ve basically taken away two of his days out of the mix and that’s a big deal, especially when you want to make sure he pitches all the way through the whole year.
“I think there’s a far better than 50-50 chance he sees Reading this summer.”
After giving up three hits and four earned runs in 2 1/3 innings of his pro debut, Nola has allowed just two hits and no runs in his last two outings.
In nine innings, Nola has eight strikeouts and zero walks. He gave up a hit and no walks with five strikeouts in five innings on Tuesday night.
“It was about as clean as you could be,” Jordan said. “I was in the draft room as they were describing the guys and what I watched last week was exactly the picture that those guys had painted. He can pitch, he keeps the ball at the bottom of the zone, he throws all three pitches for strikes — that’s what he did again last night. We got a good one and we’re just trying to get him accustomed to the five-day routine of a professional pitcher as opposed to the seven-day routine of a college pitcher.”