While Brett Anderson and Trevor Cahill got most of the prospect hype in Oakland, Gio Gonzalez quietly established himself as another young pitcher to watch. A former first round pick having bounced around 3 organizations since being drafted and sporting an MLB ERA uglier than Nick Nolte's mugshot, Gio looked like he may never live up to his promise. Then in 2010 he reached the 200 IP plateau with a strong 3.23 ERA to go with it. What does the future hold for Gonzalez? Will he revert back to his ugly ERA days or is there a new ace in Oakland?
We'll take a look at his minor league numbers for clues after the jump...
At the start of 2010 Gonzalez was a pitcher I was tracking for my fantasy team cause I liked the strikeout potential and good pitching was limited in our league. The biggest problem for Gio has always been control so I told myself if he showed improved command I'd snatch him. He was able to show me enough in his early starts that I picked him up and he became one of the better waiver claims of the year. Although his 2010 was fantastic he still heads into 2011 with many of the same questions.
While the control was improved it was still pretty scary at 4.12 BB/9. His walk rate is even worse in the high minors with 4.6 BB/9 in 186 AAA IP. This could mean Gio is due for regression in this area. He doesn't have a history with hitting the strike zone so why expect him to start now? But don't write him off so fast. Still only 25 this coming season he could be finding a feel for his pitches which have swing and miss stuff. His K/9 was above 10 at nearly every level of the minors. In 12 AAA starts in 2009 he had 10.5 K/9 while allowing a mere 6.2 H/9. You don't fool AAA hitters that much unless you have some pretty stellar stuff. Oh right he also walked 5 per 9.
He brought the K-rate with him to his first two years in the Bigs but in 2010 it dipped to 7.67 as he traded some of the punch-outs for less free passes. He has a history of struggling when moving up a level then making big strides the next year as he gains confidence at the level. I wouldn't be surprised to see the K-rate jump above 8 this year as he finds some of the knock-out power he had in the minors. A 200 IP repeat might be a bit much to ask for considering the walks are likely to keep him from going deeper into games. If he continues to improve his control to around 3.5 BB/9 he could become a certifiable fantasy ace. I'm not holding my breath waiting for it but I'm putting it out there that with the right adjustments it's possible.
Once again I'll be watching Gio early this season hoping the "command" he flashed in 2010 is the start of something big. He looked confident last year and that may be a young pitcher realizing his stuff is hard enough to hit that he doesn't need to nibble at the corners so much. I'm hoping for Gio to give me something around 180IP/170K/3.80ERA but I know it could be much more if he can find a way to harness his nasty stuff. (not supposed to sound as dirty as it does). However, if he's unable to keep the ball in the zone things could get ugly. Like Phil Spector mugshot ugly.