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Solving Stephen Gonsalves

When I posted my series ranking the Top 20 Minnesota Twins assets over the past couple of weeks, there were plenty of quibbles and disagreements expressed, serving to me as a good gauge of how TD's community at large is feeling about various players.

One asset that many people seem to be down on is Stephen Gonsalves, which isn't too surprising. But to me, he seems like a player worthy of a closer look.
Image courtesy of Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
In his final three appearances for the Twins in 2018 – all coming in relief of an "opener" – Gonsalves threw 12 1/3 innings, faced 50 batters, and allowed four hits. All singles. That's a .098 batting average and a .098 slugging percentage. While it was a small sample, and more than offset by the .414 AVG and .621 SLG he allowed in his first four starts, this unhittable stretch was still noteworthy.

It's noteworthy because it mirrors the formula that brought Gonsalves immense success at every level of the minors. The left-hander has a fairly rare strength working in his favor, and it was on display during an otherwise rough MLB debut: He is very, very hard to square up. And while other aspects of his game may need a lot of work, that's not a bad foundation.

***


It's important to keep this in mind: Gonsalves has lots of development ahead of him yet. What we saw in 2018 was (hopefully) not the finished product. He's still only 24 and has two options remaining, so through next year, the Twins can shuttle him to Triple-A as needed to work with Rochester pitching coach Stu Cliburn on the flaws that are holding back his game.

In many ways, Gonsalves is the prototype for a pitcher who takes extra time to reach his potential – tall, long and gangly, with inconsistent mechanics that require extensive refinement. I'm not saying that means he will reach his potential, only that he has those makings.

Control has been an issue for Gonsalves all along, and his wildness came to roost in Minnesota, where he issued 22 walks in 24 2/3 innings of work. In Triple-A his 13.4% BB-rate was the highest out of 35 pitchers to throw 100+ innings. When Gonsalves is outside of the zone, he doesn't really get people to chase, and when he's in the zone he doesn't really get people to miss.

Gonsalves allows quite a bit of contact. But he doesn't allow much loud contact. In 23 outings between Double-A and Triple-A before his call-up in 2018, he held opponents to a .184 average and .283 slugging percentage. He had a six-start stretch from June to July in Rochester where he didn't allow a single extra-base hit. Despite being a heavy fly ball pitcher, he has the same minuscule HR/9 rate in the minors as ground ball specialist extraordinaire Kohl Stewart.

Even though he got knocked around in his first exposure to the majors, yielding a 6.57 ERA and 2.03 WHIP in seven total appearances, Gonsalves allowed just two homers and seven total XBHs while facing 122 total batters. His track record tells us there's nothing fluky about that.

***


At present, the Twins have an open vacancy in their rotation behind Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda. There are a number of candidates to fill it, and Gonsalves isn't at the front of the line. He's not as good as Fernando Romero and he doesn't have Adalberto Mejia's out-of-options impetus. So, barring injuries, I'd say Gonsalves' chances of winning a job out of camp are very low, even if the Twins don't sign another starter.

But that's just fine. The Twins' mission for the next two seasons – between Wes Johnson, Jeremy Hefner, Cliburn, Mike McCarthy, and the rest of the pitching braintrust – is to iron out the kinks in Gonsalves' game and turning him into a quality option for the back half of the rotation.

The southpaw's weaknesses are evident, but don't sleep on the strengths that carried him to a 2.46 ERA and 6.4 H/9 rate in 600 minor-league innings – as well as a stunningly strong finish in his first big-league season.

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42 Comments

I would only hope that Gonsalves becomes at least a servicable major league starter.It is daunting to think about the paucity of in-house starting pitching produced since after Liriano and Garza.Scott Baker is retired and he won 66 games for his career and that is tops.After him is Kyle Gibson with 54; add Kevin Slowey (also retired) with 44 career wins.I would hope Gibson passes Baker, but I wouldn't bet on him winning more than 80 games.I am excited about Berrios (even if I am wary), but almost indifferent with Gonsalves.I just am conditioned not to think about it until he is called up.Anything before that means nothing to me.I heard all about talented young arms before.Come up and do it so I can believe.Anything else is an assumption.

 

What isn't an assumption is that we really have not produced a pitcher worthy of being called an ace in since Johan Santana (bless his heart).It is quite literally hard to sell the others I listed as a #2, but that is a matter of opinion albeit a much smaller point.If someone wants to argue Baker could have been called a solid number 2 a couple of times.OK....sure.I am talking about the depth of his work not his tiny prime. 

 

The overriding fact is that we don't produce much starting pitching.If you can't raise your own pitching then you have to go out into the market and overpay for free agents.It would sure as heck be nice to have two pitchers under team control (pre arbitration) actually pitching well at once for a season.It's almost as if it has been ordained that this should not happen.It actually is making me nuts!Liriano and Pavano had a good thing going in 2010 and they were not high salary guys.Since then there just hasn't been much to be excited about and Gonsalves doesn't change that forme.Sorry about that.I keep hearing this and that about getting arms for the bullpen. How about raising young arms to start and give 6 innings of once a week?How about we have a season where maybe two or three of them come up, mature and give us quality innings?? When have we been excited about a starter coming through our system since Liriano? There was hype around Garza coming up but he is done and had an OK career.Not with us.

 

Not sure what to say about Gonsalves.Low batting average against, high walks.How does this translate at the highest level?We saw a little last year.Obviously he needs to develop.  

Essentially, before Berrios last season, since 2010 ended we have not seen so much as a #2 starter come through our season except for a couple of seasons by Baker.We can't live with that.We have to put a premium on raising young starting pitching.If you can field just two young pitchers who can occupy the middle of the rotation and be lucky enough to have one like Berrios then you have something.

 

Going out and signing a Grienke or a Darvish or a Mad Bum is a fool's errand.Any one of those are flash moves.We need to raise cost-controlled starting pitching that can get outs and not embarrass itself.Until we can do that I have trouble thinking we can get anywhere.

He has marginal MLB stuff. That means he will have to have great control to succeed. He has given no indication that he can develop that. Do not count on him - if he surprises great.
    • laloesch likes this

 

Gonsalves has a chance to be a mid rotation piece with a track record superior to prospects like the recently released Slegers.

I have been known to be wrong (many times before :)), but I believe Slegers was DFA'd not released.

    • ashbury likes this
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diehardtwinsfan
Jan 09 2019 10:16 AM

 

I dont think the Twins had a plan otherwise this article would not be written.  

 

Last year in AAA, Gonsalves had a 2.96 ERA and struck out 95 in 100 innings.HIs career minor league K/9 is 9.5.AS a minor leaguer he missed a lot of bats or had some other special magic (I missed Gonsalves every time in Ft Myers so I have never watched him pitch). I understand that major league hitters are different than minor league hitters but that is what minor league development is for.  

 

The Twins moved him slowly and carefully through the minors. I get that it is a huge step and takes time to adjust to pitching in the majors.But these arguments posited by this article is different than simple adjustment.It is pitch make up and other mechanical issues that should have been address 3 years ago.

 

To be fair, we don't know what was addressed 3 years ago. I doubt the development people simply ignored them. Whether they targeted the right things is certainly fair to ask... On the flip side, most of these guys are gone now... so I think we have to cut the new guys some slack in that they get what they've inherited....

 

Also, we forget that Gonsalves was a 4th round pick. There are definitely reasons for his fall to that outside of issues such as potential, but those picks generally indicate that there are more question marks needing addressing and that he is less of a sure thing. I don't have too much of an issue with the Twins measured approach with him. He got results, but we all saw the BB peripheral in particular and knew full well that patient ML hitters will exploit that... and it reared it's ugly head at the ML level. I suspect he will spend some time in Minnesota this summer... and yes, I hope the FO has some good plans to fix him. 

    • DocBauer and MN_ExPat like this

I watched Gonsalves pitch a couple games last year. His fastball always seemed high and outside. Which led to many of his walks. Although shown as 90/91 mph, he frequently threw it in the upper 80's.

His changeup seemed to be his strikeout pitch. I don't remember him having any control issues with it.

The curveball/slider pitchdidn't appear to be an exceptional pitch, but batters were not hitting it hard. Again he didn't appear to have any control issues with the breaking ball. 

 

A package headlined by Gonsalves isn't getting a front of the rotation starter, no matter how much quantity is added.
I'm doubtful that you could get a deal done even with Gonsalved as the second piece.
Do you have any historical examples of legit front of the rotation starters being traded for a package that didn't include a single top 100 prospect?

 

A. Gonsalves has been a top 100 prospect in both the MLB and BA rolls.

B. Throw in Nick Gordon who is a top 100 prospect

C. Sell High.Cannot wait until a prospect is well baked before you turn that asset into someone who can play

 

Certainly Gonsalves + Gordon + another prospect or 2, plus taking over $ can bring in a top of the rotation starter.

 

Verlander was traded for Daz Cameron (#74 BA the season before trade, unranked season of trade), Franklin Perez (#54 BA) and Jake Rogers (unranked.)

    • James likes this

This is part of what I wrote on Gonsalves in my 2018 off-season prospect rankings.He was 9th:

 

"He has some difficulties in repeating his delivery which results in occasional loss of command and that is translated with an increase in walks and decrease in strikeouts.When that happens, Gonsalves has been successful so far by inducing weak movement.Pitching to weak contact and needed to paint the corners to succeed is a risky recipe for success and despite Gonsalves doing it in every level, there is a feeling that it will just take him that far, especially when he has a long frame and with the difficulties in repeating his delivery, which results in the up and down command issue, not to mention the shoulder considerations."

 

Still stand by it and it is exactly what we have witnessed in his ~25 IP sample size in the majors, as well... 

 

Will never be a top of the rotation guy, and the Twins have many 5th starter types not to take advantage of his national regard and trade him, selling high...

 

No one thinks a .098 BAA or 1.46 ERA are sustainable for Gonsalves. The point is that there are underlying elements of his performance during that stretch that seem legit. He doesn't get hit hard and that tends to limit the damage on balls in play.

I just don't see what underlying elements of his performance we should be hanging our hats on in such a small sample.

 

For the assertion that Gonsalves doesn't get hit hard, it is certainly true that he was able to limit hits, BABIP, and such in the minors. But all of the Statcast data seems to indicate that he got hit just as hard or harder than the average big league pitcher. The fact that he only allowed 2 HRs (which makes his final HR numbers, like HR/9, HR/FB%, etc, look good) instead of 3 HRs (which would put everything at roughly league-average) is hardly a difference that anyone should put a lot of faith into for his future performance.

 

A big part of why he was able to do limit hard contact in the minors is because he was able to induce an obscene number of popups. (Seriously, his AVERAGE popup rate in the minors would be TWICE the rate of the MLB leader last year, deGrom.) His success at the end of the season wasn't because he got back to inducing popups (he didn't induce a single popup in his last three games); rather, he inverted his script and induced a ton of ground balls. Now, that would have been an interested topic for an article: "Did Gonsalves become a ground ball pitcher?" But for now, his margin for success in the majors is razor thin, and until I see evidence that he can actually miss bats or avoid walks, I'm not buying Gonsalves.

A. Gonsalves has been a top 100 prospect in both the MLB and BA rolls.
B. Throw in Nick Gordon who is a top 100 prospect
C. Sell High. Cannot wait until a prospect is well baked before you turn that asset into someone who can play

Certainly Gonsalves + Gordon + another prospect or 2, plus taking over $ can bring in a top of the rotation starter.

Verlander was traded for Daz Cameron (#74 BA the season before trade, unranked season of trade), Franklin Perez (#54 BA) and Jake Rogers (unranked.)


Both Gordon and Gonsalves are outside of the top 100 now though.
Even with Verlander's full no trade clause, they were still able to get a top 60 prospect. I can't imagine getting a legit front of the rotation starter for a package that doesn't have someone that high at a minimum.
    • Original Whizzinator likes this

 

To be fair, we don't know what was addressed 3 years ago. I doubt the development people simply ignored them. Whether they targeted the right things is certainly fair to ask... On the flip side, most of these guys are gone now... so I think we have to cut the new guys some slack in that they get what they've inherited....

 

Also, we forget that Gonsalves was a 4th round pick. There are definitely reasons for his fall to that outside of issues such as potential, but those picks generally indicate that there are more question marks needing addressing and that he is less of a sure thing. I don't have too much of an issue with the Twins measured approach with him. He got results, but we all saw the BB peripheral in particular and knew full well that patient ML hitters will exploit that... and it reared it's ugly head at the ML level. I suspect he will spend some time in Minnesota this summer... and yes, I hope the FO has some good plans to fix him. 

 

It is true that this was mostly the previous front office, but not all of it.In addition, the current front office is repeating most of the previous groups actions.

 

As far as not knowing what was addressed, true.But again, whatever was addressed and how htey did it failed.  

 

That this is a common result for Twins prospects has to be troubling.

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diehardtwinsfan
Jan 09 2019 07:46 PM

 

It is true that this was mostly the previous front office, but not all of it.In addition, the current front office is repeating most of the previous groups actions.

 

As far as not knowing what was addressed, true.But again, whatever was addressed and how htey did it failed.  

 

That this is a common result for Twins prospects has to be troubling.

 

for what it's worth, a large portion of the development guys have been replaced.

    • Original Whizzinator likes this
How do you solve a problem like Gonsalves?
How do you catch a cloud and pin it down?
How do you find a word that means Gonsalves?
A flibbertijibbet! A will-o'-the wisp! A clown!…
    • SQUIRREL and MN_ExPat like this

Good information.

But, then, it makes the real question pop out all the more.

What have the Twins been doing with Gonsalves all of these years for him to arrive at the major league level with all of these weaknesses? It isn't as if Gonsalves is a 20 year old guy rushed to the major leagues. In fact, the Twins have been very patient with him as the following career path demonstrates:

2013 Gulf Coast (Rookie)/Elizabethton(Rookie)
2014 Elizabethton(Rookie)/Cedar Rapids (A)
2015 Cedar Rapids (A)/Ft Myers (A+)
2016 Ft Myers (A+)/Chattanooga (AA)
2017 Chattanooga (AA)/Rochester (AAA)
2018 Chattanooga(AA)/Rochester(AAA)/Minnesota

Gonsalves was statistically succesful at every level. His career ERA is below 2.50 at every level up to AA, and it is 3.44 in AAA when you include his 2017 AAA exposure that wasn't his best.

Yet, despite this success at every level, Gonsalves repeated the level he was to start every season of his minor league career, with the exception of 2017 where his unsuccessful stint at AAA made the Twins start him back in AA again.

Gonsalves is 24 years old, and even though I am an advocate of agressive prospect promotion, I agree that there are some players like him that require a more measured approach.

But, I will ask the question again: What has the Twins organization been doing with him since 2013 for him to be so in need of further work? If the Twins followed my approach and moved him through the minors more agressively and he reached the majors with some of these issues it might be understandable. Maybe he will, as the author suggests, reach his potential 2-3 years from now bouncing back and forth between MN and AAA. And for some guys that works. But that seems to be the default plan for the Twins which is another reason why we are in the position we are in.


Very salient points all the way around!

My only disagreement is your comment on 2-3yrs before he steps to the forefront.

He has learned and made adjustments at every level he has been at. Yes, there have been hiccups, and the BB for a time last season was alarming. But what did he do yet again? He made adjustments and found himself. I often find it amusing when a pitching prospect reaches the ML level, like Berrios as an example, and struggles initially, and some claim he's automatically a bust of some sort. I think Gonsalves will be up in 2019, will improve, and could be a fixture by 2020.

That being said, I honestly think Thorpe is an even better option. Here's hoping both are part of the 2020 roation.
    • MN_ExPat and Original Whizzinator like this

Very salient points all the way around!
My only disagreement is your comment on 2-3yrs before he steps to the forefront.
He has learned and made adjustments at every level he has been at. Yes, there have been hiccups, and the BB for a time last season was alarming. But what did he do yet again? He made adjustments and found himself. I often find it amusing when a pitching prospect reaches the ML level, like Berrios as an example, and struggles initially, and some claim he's automatically a bust of some sort. I think Gonsalves will be up in 2019, will improve, and could be a fixture by 2020.
That being said, I honestly think Thorpe is an even better option. Here's hoping both are part of the 2020 roation.


I'm not giving up on Gonsalves yet and I think he'll improve in 2019, but the question is how much? He just doesn't seem to have the stuff. The Twins have other options so if he's valued as a throw in for a trade no big loss. I agree Thorpe is probably a much better lefty option who is getting close. Certainly has much better stuff.
    • DocBauer and Original Whizzinator like this

I'm not giving up on Gonsalves yet and I think he'll improve in 2019, but the question is how much? He just doesn't seem to have the stuff. The Twins have other options so if he's valued as a throw in for a trade no big loss. I agree Thorpe is probably a much better lefty option who is getting close. Certainly has much better stuff.


Right with you there on Thorpe. Everything from his early performance to post injury/illness performance and pure stuff tells me he is for real.

But if his debut stinks, do we proclaim he was over-hyped? Remember, Gibson had a bad debut. Then he had 2 really solid seasons on bad teams. Then he really found himself after a season and a half. Berrios really struggled on his initiation to MLB and now looks like a true #1-2 with time. Gonsalves has done nothing but adapt and produce at every level. He even adapted and produced his last few "primary starts" in 2018. He is long, lanky, LH, and has struggled with repeated delivery at times. He has also shown adaptability and pitchability at every level. So a so-so ROOKIE appearance at the ML level has convinced some he doesn't have the stuff to make it?

My goodness, can't we just let time, experience and new pitching coach Johnson just work through some things before we just say he can't make it? Ridiculous to dismiss Gonsalves at this point after a brief so-so debu6 simply because he doesn't have some singular dominating pitch.

Tweaks and experience along with opportunity, it's not hard to see Gonsalves, Thorpe and Berrios as part of the 2020 staff along with Romero and Mejia, even though a pen option remains.
    • MN_ExPat likes this

1.The Berrios, Franks Viola, and the comments about debut's stinking is why I favor rushing prospects in a rebuilding environment. Get them up quicker so you can be more patient with their initial exposure to major league competition.Since you are losing games anyways, why not. It took Frank Viola two year of poor pitching and ERA's above 5.00 to become Frankie Viola, WS MVP and Cy Young candidate/winner.But because he did not spend much time in the minors and the team was truly competitive, they could afford to keep putting him out there.The Twins are in the same position now.

 

2.All of these glowing reports on Lewis Thorpe, I must have watched him pitch his poorest games of his career. When I have seen him his fastball wasn't anything special and his command of secondary pitches non-existent.He also looked remarkably unathletic and botched plays in the field.Then I see his overall stats and his reviews,and wonder how he is the same guy


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