A look at Brian Gonzalez's ascension to the O's player pool

His addition to the Orioles' 60-man player pool on Aug. 7 may have surprised some people. But after a season at Double-A Bowie where he made gains pitching as a reliever for the first time, left-hander Brian Gonzalez got the call to join the Bowie alternate camp.

After the Aug. 1 trade of Richard Bleier left just two bullpen lefties on the big league roster at that time, Gonzalez was added to a Bowie roster of players that was not overflowing with southpaws.

Gonzalez has been in the organization a long time. He is part of the 2014 draft class that had already seen John Means, Tanner Scott and David Hess make the majors. And had he not headed off to the NBA, right-hander Pat Connaughton may have as well.

Of that class, Gonzalez was the O's top pick, taken No. 90 overall in the third round out of Archbishop McCarthy (Fla.) High School near Miami, where he played for a powerhouse that won three consecutive state titles. Gonzalez signed for $700,000, which was $105,800 over slot. The Orioles had signed Nelson Cruz and Ubaldo Jiménez before the 2014 season, losing some of their highest picks. So Gonzalez became their top selection that year.

Then he went through several ups and downs as a starter. In 2018 for Bowie, he went 8-6 with a 5.69 ERA in the rotation. When the 2019 season started, he was slotted in the 'pen behind several of the organization's top young guns in the Baysox rotation.

Gonzalez-B-Delivers-Orange-ST-sidebar.jpgGonzalez quietly had a solid year out of the Bowie bullpen. Yes, the record was 0-2 and the ERA was 4.32. But over 41 2/3 innings, he allowed 33 hits, walked 11 and fanned 35. Hitters batted just .209 against him and he recorded a WHIP of 1.06.

"It was kind of an easy transition (to the bullpen)," said Gonzalez, who made 105 starts from 2014-2018. "Biggest thing, I would say, is just routine-wise, just a different day to day. As a starter, you have four days to prepare, and in the bullpen, you have to be ready every day. I enjoyed that. I liked being able to be in the game every day, be some part of the game. And I was mostly used in long relief, so I was still getting length out of the bullpen. Two, three, four innings sometimes. So still the same here at Bowie. I'm getting built up and getting more and more innings every time I'm out there. So I'm pretty sure I'll be used in that long relief role. That is what they told me so far."

Gonazalez was rated by Baseball America as the Orioles' No. 23 prospect at the end of the 2015 season and No. 15 at the end of 2017.

As the new front office brought a bigger reliance on analytics and the use of data and technology on the farm, Gonzalez dove in and embraced it.

"There is an abundance of information we are receiving and the data from an analytical standpoint," he said. "It was kind of overwhelming at first, but they did such a great job of transitioning kind of that old school mentality to the new school mentality. They just provided all the numbers for pitchers specifically, brought each individual in and discussed it to say, 'Hey this is what you do really good. This is what you do really bad. We think you can improve here and do better things if you tend toward these numbers and we're going to help you get there.'

"They did a great job of bridging the analytical stuff into the pitching stuff. It wasn't just throwing numbers at you and go figure it out. We had classroom sessions and we got taught. Not just about the numbers, but about little mechanical things as well. It was an abundance of information, but they did a great job teaching it. They bridged that gap. I think we saw in in the first year. I think our whole organization went up one K (strikeout) per nine. For the first year of a new regime, that is kind of incredible. You could see it on teams, see the arms we have and it's been nothing but great things so far."

But whether Gonzalez would more fully put his gains to use this year was a topic without an answer for a few months. Sure, he could workout on his own, but the minor league season eventually got canceled and he had not yet been added to the Bowie camp roster. Was he concerned about what that would mean for his career?

"I would say yes and no. I tend not to worry about things I can't control," he said. "In conversations with (director of pitching) Chris Holt and (Triple-A pitching coach) Kennie Steenstra, who was our contact man during the second offseason quarantine, they just kept saying, 'Be ready, you never know when you might get the call for the 60-man.' That was my mindset. Do what I could control and I was fortunate enough to be in a spot where I had resources to do that. Just stay ready and if it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen and we'll figure it out."

Since entering the organization in 2014, Gonazalez said he can see the quality of arms on the farm improving, especially with general manger Mike Elias' first draft class in 2019.

"Just from what we bring into the organization, it's a lot, I wouldn't say a lot different," Gonzalez said. "But we kind of know what we are going to get from players coming out of the draft - we're going to get either high spin (rate) guys or high velo guys. Especially with last year's draft was the first draft with the new regime and I got to spend some time with a lot of those guys at (short-season Single-A) Aberdeen when I was rehabbing. A lot of those guys can spin the ball really well and have really good spin numbers. That is one takeaway I took from last year's draft. I think the quality of arms here just keeps getting better and better, whether from trades or the draft. You can tell they look for something unique in each guy."

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