After pitching in the Orioles organization since they drafted him in 2014, left-hander Brian Gonzalez found himself in a position he had never before dealt with. Five days after the World Series, he was a minor league free agent for the first time.
Gonzalez, who turned 25 on Oct. 25, heard from a few teams, but the Colorado Rockies immediately showed strong interest. On Wednesday, he signed a minor league deal with Colorado, getting a spring training invite.
“It was happening quick,” Gonzalez said during an interview yesterday. “I didn’t know how fast or when I would sign or even if other teams were interested. The Rockies called right away. I was caught off-guard but excited.”
But the Orioles wanted him back as well. On Aug. 7, he was added to their 60-man player pool and pitched at the alternate site at Double-A Bowie. After being a starter since he was drafted - he made 105 starts on the O’s farm from 2014 to 2018 - he pitched out of the bullpen with Bowie in 2019.
Gonzalez quietly had a solid 2019 year out of the Baysox ‘pen. 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. A new role had produced some success for the pitcher that was selected in round three by Baltimore (No. 90 overall) out of a Miami-area high school in 2014.
He went 31-35 with a 4.10 ERA in 130 games and 578 innings on the O’s farm, pitching everywhere from the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League through Double-A. But now another team wanted him and was pushing hard.
He had a big decision to make.
“The Orioles expressed them wanting me back and they wanted to continue to work with me and help me develop,” he said. “I will be honest. This was probably a tougher decision than draft day. I was struggling to make a decision because of the history and relationships I had built up with the Orioles. Ultimately, I thought I had to do what is kind of best for me and my career right now. I just thought the opportunity was a little bit greater with the Rockies. It is sad to leave the Orioles, but it might be a better situation with the Rockies.
“I sat down with my agent and we looked at the rosters and had good conversations with both sides. I think the roster with the Rockies is a little bit thin on the left-handed side and they expressed they need left-handers. I understand they will add more lefties, but from that standpoint, there was more opportunity. They mentioned long relief in the bullpen, and then if things go well, they could see me start. It was a similar situation to how John Means got started. The roster just plays out a little bit better in my favor and I felt comfortable going there.”
With the deadline coming up on Nov. 20 for teams to add players to their 40-man rosters before the December Rule 5 draft, Gonzalez said the Orioles told him they had not decided yet whether they would add him. He remains Rule 5 draft-eligible with the Rockies. He said getting that protection or not getting it was not a deal-breaker for him with either club.
But it was those ties to the Orioles and all his history with the organization that was tugging at him.
“That was the first thing on my mind with this decision,” he said. “All the coaches and players and deep-rooted friendships. We all got pretty close and there are some of my closest friends today. I just got treated so well by the coaches and players there and built relationships. Maybe this change is necessary for growth.
“Yes, it sucks to walk away from those relationships and people. All the conversations I had with the Orioles were real positive. There is nothing to it from a contract standpoint of me wanting more from the Orioles. This was just about what I just think gives me my best shot.”
After playing seven seasons for the Orioles under two general managers, Gonzalez is well positioned to project what the O’s farm might be able to produce over the next several seasons, especially on the pitching side.
“I think the Orioles are going to be an unreal talented team in the next couple of years,” he said. “I think we saw that coming back a couple of years ago. Some players were moving up the ranks fast, then the new regime comes in. I would say not only just drafting-wise but just trade-wise and picking up players that maybe you have not heard that much about. Then you see someone and it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s why they got this guy. He’s special because of this or that.’ This regime knows what they want and they go after it. It was great to see. I think they are going to be super talented and the pitching will be very competitive for spots to crack the rotation and bullpen. I wish nothing but the best for all these guys.”
As he leaves the Orioles behind, I wish Gonzalez good luck. He was always open and honest in any interview we ever did and someone that is easy to root for. He also provided some interesting insights and scouting reports of sorts on the Bowie camp and those quotes will be presented here soon.
Bitter sweet day, just want to give a huge thank you to the whole @Orioles organization. Tons of great people and relationships built over the last 7 years that I cherish and won’t take for granted! It was a fun ride and will always have the O’s in a special place in my heart!-- Brian Gonzalez (@b_gonzalez25) November 11, 2020