The Pittsburgh Pirates were hit hard in the minor league phase of the Rule 5 draft, losing a total of 11 players while adding only two.
Most of the players taken probably won’t hurt the Pirates in the long run, but it was an interesting way of going about thinning down any pending log jam in the system.
There was one player who, after a shift to the bullpen in 2022, looked to find a role that suited him. He ended up leading the system in wins, while pitching over 100 innings.
Domingo Gonzalez made a mid-season move from the rotation to the bullpen, and looked like a completely different pitcher.
From June 25th on, Gonzalez posted a 3.26 ERA in 49.2 innings, holding opponents to a .215 average. Both his strikeout (24.4%) and walk (7.2%) rates were both better than his entire season average during that span.
Up to that point, the righty was posting a 6.38 ERA across 55 innings pitched. He was barely striking out 20% of the batters he faced while walking over 11%.
Taking a look at Gonzalez on the mound, you can see how his approach makes him better suited for the bullpen, with his two-seam/sinker and breaking ball playing really well off of each other, as well as not really having a third pitch.
You can see some struggles controlling the fastball against righties, which would explain his average against lefties being .228 compared to .266. He is able to locate the pitch well against lefties, using both sides of the plates.
Gonzalez was able to throw the fastball inside and have it break right in on the strike zone, getting a lot of called strikes with it.
The breaking ball is a good pitch, and if you watch the progression of it over the season, it gets a lot sharper and more defined as it goes on (the video from his lone appearance in Altoona).
Gonzalez has a tendency to leave it in the zone more than you would usually want but he gets away with it sometimes due to the similarity to the fastball.
A final look at some full at-bats against hitters, scattered throughout the season.
The first shows the first batter he faces in Altoona, getting a three pitch strikeout. He starts the at-bat off with a pair of sliders that break down in the zone, before getting the hitter looking with a backdoor fastball that clipped the outer half of the plate.
The next batter Gonzalez alternated fastballs on the inner and outer half of the strike zone before getting the hitter looking at a fastball at the hip that broke and hit the paint inside.
Against Vaughn Grissom, a top-100 prospect who eventually rocketed his way through the minors and made his major league debut this season, Gonzalez’s second and third pitch is another example of how well the pitches work off each other.
Finally, in a situation where Gonzalez came out of the bullpen with a runner in scoring position, he throws all fastballs and gets another strikeout looking with the two-seamer in on a lefty.
Gonzalez had an higher than league average HR/FB rate of 16.7%. If that number comes back down towards average, that along with his high ground ball rate (52.2%, ninth in the system among pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched) should help his high ERA come back down.
His success against lefties also makes him a better fit in more of the modern bullpen, where pitchers have to face at least three batters.
This upcoming season the Pirates were going to have a logjam when it comes to the bullpen in Altoona and Indianapolis, so with innings hard to come by, cleaning out some of the extra arms was going to be necessary.
Losing Gonzalez right after it looked like he figured things out is unfortunate, but at least it comes at a position that the Pirates seemed to be fairly confident in their depth going forward.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.