Cuban Crossovers: Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez

This week I’m writing a series on a number of high-profile Cuban players who defected to the MLB, focusing primarily on expectation and payoff, to varying degrees. There is sometimes a tendency to over-hype international players, especially when the comparison is made based on Cuba’s somewhat spotty statistics, but the scouting has been generally solid, and a number of recent signings have worked out for Major League clubs.
Yesterday’s subject, which you can read here, was phenom Yasiel Puig. Monday’s was Jose Abreu.
Today I turn to a man who remains a big question mark: Phillies pitcher Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez.

Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez was more touted than Abreu and Puig, and perhaps about as much as Yoenis Cespedes. He defected from Cuba in 2013 after an unsuccessful attempt in 2012 that left him out of competitive play following the 2011 season.

Last July, reports surfaced saying the Phillies had signed him to a six-year, $60 million deal. It was never confirmed by the organization, and later the terms were released at a much lower 3 years and $12 million. The reason? Concerns over his elbow:

That fact has saved the Phillies from additional woe. It also makes the signing, in hind sight, a much safer one. But let’s start from the beginning.

Initial scouting reports were positive, apart from the elbow concerns. A decent fastball and above-average splitter and changeup could translate to some success as a back-end rotation or middle relief pitcher. A number of teams were interested, and the figures leaked from conversations were high, until after news of his signing was much prolonged. The Phillies, of course, signed him amidst elbow concerns.

But Gonzalez’ arm did not hold up. A “dead arm” halted his rehab earlier this year (he was in rehab after injuring his shoulder in spring training), and it’s highly unlikely the Phillies will get anything from the pitcher until at earliest a year from now. Three years removed from his days as a dominant Cuban pitcher, he’s been placed on the 60-day disabled list with a “sore right shoulder.”

27 years old now, this is Gonzalez’ best chance to recover and make a run for the roster. If his problems don’t go away, it’s hard to see the big-league club ever getting a single pitch in the regular season from the righty. But if he is to make it to the majors, the Phillies need to take into account that he didn’t pitch at all during 2012. The following line from a HardballTalk report in May should draw some concern about how delicately his arm isn’t being treated:

Phillies GM Ruben Amaro said Gonzalez was topping out at 95 MPH on his fastball, much better than the high-80′s fastball Gonzalez was throwing in spring training.

If Gonzalez was throwing in the high-80s during spring training, why — and how — was he hurling at 95 MPH in mid-May? Given his elbow and shoulder issues, he should have been eased back into pitching. The club shouldn’t expect him to throw in the 90s right away. And they should also make sure he knows that. This pitcher needs time to recover, and a depleted Phillies system that is far from contending should have plenty of that to offer.

Little news has surfaced recently about his progress, as perhaps many want to forget the signing altogether. Gonzalez still sits on the 60-day DL, but a note from June 20 says he was sent on a Class A Advanced rehab assignment. The results of this assignment may determine if he can ever pitch again.

The signs are starting to look oddly like Phillies reliever Mike Adams, though Adams is eight years older. Adams has spent most of his Phillies career on the DL after multiple injuries to his pitching shoulder — all this after thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in October 2012. I see Gonzalez, like Adams, continuing to have problems as injuries compound, especially if the underlying problems are not found.

The move the Phillies made in signing Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez was a risk, but that doesn’t mean it was a bad call. The place where the organization may deserve blame is the handling of the pitcher since. $12 million over three years for a once-dominant Cuban league pitcher is not an incredibly high price. Not being able to ever use him because of hurried rehab is.


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