It's somewhat surprising that the St. Louis Cardinals passed over its stable of starting pitchers at Class AAA Memphis to elevate top 2013 draft pick Marco Gonzales to the major leagues with barely a year of professional baseball under his belt.
While Gonzales has made steady progress and put up good numbers as he's climbed the minor league ladder, his rise wasn't as dramatic as the guy he'll replace -- at least on a temporary basis -- Michael Wacha.
Gonzales was 2-2 with a 1.43 ERA at High Class A Palm Beach where he allowed 34 hits in 37 2/3 innings before being promoted to Class AA Springfield. In his most-recent stop, the 22-year-old lefty was 3-2 with a 2.33 ERA and allowed 33 hits in 38 2/3 innings. He's struck out 78 and walked 18 between the two stops this year.
He definitely was making a case for a promotion to Class AAA But it's doubtful the Cardinals plan to keep Gonzales in St. Louis permanently. Carlos Martinez will fill one of the open spots in the rotation created when Jaime Garcia and Wacha were both sent to the disabled list Sunday. Joe Kelly, ready to begin a rehab assignment after spending time out of action with a hamstring pull, will likely fill the other opening after two to three tune-up appearances in the minors.
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Still, the move to reach into Class AA for a short-term fix isn't unprecedented.
The Cardinals initially promoted Martinez from Class AA for a brief stay to oohs and ahs from fans eagerly anticipating his arrival. He was given a taste of life in the major leagues and of the speed of the game before being sent to Class AAA for final polishing.
Besides, Gonzales is a closer match to Wacha, who quickly made his way to the majors, than to a pitcher like Shelby Miller who took a slow, step-by-step path.
Gonzales, like Wacha, played in a major college baseball program and has the poise and the experience that goes along with that exposure. Miller was 18 and fresh out of high school when he was drafted. Players like that have a lot more to learn.
Some have wondered if Gonzales is being showcased as part of a potential trade. It's certainly possible. But I doubt the Cardinals would promote him only for that reason.
They can't assume that a potential trade would go through. So they have to do what they believe is best for the development of that player, not potentially set him back on a maybe. If they thought he couldn't handle the pressure and it might damage his confidence, it would make no sense to expose Gonzales.
Besides, players who are making their big league debut are apt to have some growing pains. If I was St. Louis GM John Mozeliak and I was willing to include Gonzales in a deal, I'd leave him in the minors and avoid the possibility that he'd look bad in a short big league stay. After all, when Bob Gibson was called up for a cup of coffee with the Cardinals in 1959 he made three appearances. He was sent back to the minors with a 10.12 ERA and six hits allowed -- one of them a home run -- in 2 2/3 innings of work. He struck out none and walked none.
It's a lot to expect of a guy making his major league debut to wow the scouts at Coors Field where breaking balls don't break and sometimes lazy fly balls don't land until they have flown over the outfield wall.
I don't believe the promotion is a sign of Gonzales being placed on the trading block. I think it is a sign, however, that the Cardinals believe the young hurler may be ready to make a serious contribution at the MLB level later this year.
When Martinez was initially called up from May 3-25, 2013 he had a 4.50 ERA with nine strikeouts and three walks over eight innings of work. He was sent to Memphis and then called back after six weeks. Martinez, a surprise arrival only a few months earlier, ended up being a major piece of the St. Louis bullpen in the September pennant race and in the post season.
If Gonzales has an impact on the trade market, it might be to assist Mozeliak in convincing opposing GMs that he's not desperate for rotation help as opposed to serving as an actual trading chip. Instead of promoting lesser prospects Tyler Lyons or Tim Cooney, elevating a top draft pick can be Mo's way of broadcasting to his counterparts "You think we're desperate for your starting pitcher? We grow pitchers around here like weeds."