Lockout, schmockout! We said there was at least one kind of transaction that teams could still pull off during the lockout, and the Cubs have gotten started on that process. Well, more accurately, they’ve already kinda blown up my understanding of how that process was going to work.
Per the team transaction log, the Cubs have signed lefty Stephen Gonsalves to a minor league deal. We know that minor league deals are good to go during the lockout. But my understanding was the players who’d appeared in the big leagues in 2021, and/or who were in the MLB Players Association, were not eligible to sign any kind of deal right now, including minor league deals. Since Gonsalves saw action in the big leagues in 2021 with the Red Sox, and since the transaction posted on December 3, after the lockout started, I’m a bit perplexed. That didn’t take long. So it is when you’re dealing with the first work stoppage in 26 years.
We’ll probably get word eventually on how it is that the Cubs were able to sign Gonsalves right now, but in the meantime, let’s actually note some things about the player, himself. Because he’s potentially a really good one.
Gonsalves, 27, was a long-time Twins top ten system prospect who reached overall top 100 status in 2017 and 2018. I recognized the name right away, and it turns out that’s why. He was a legit prospect for a long time.
He got his first cup of coffee in 2018, without success, and then was injured for just about all of 2019. That’s when he became one of those guys who gets bounced around waivers, from the Twins to the Mets to the Red Sox, and then he eventually was outrighted by the Red Sox and signed a minor league deal for 2021. It was his first full year post injury, and it was a mix of starts and relief appearances at Triple-A, and three relief appearances in the big leagues. The results were mixed across all levels, though, interestingly, he’d bumped his fastball about three mph since his earlier big league stint with the Twins, when it was barely 90 mph.
There’s not a lot to take away, statistically, from the last few years, because of the injuries and limited innings. This looks to be a pure scouting and upside play by the Cubs, who probably liked the resurgence in Gonsalves fastball velocity, and some of his unique traits as a prospect.
Some of the last scouting reports we have are instructive, and paint the picture of a good no-risk chance on the guy Gonsalves used to be. Just getting him healthy and sorting out his role might be enough to get some value.
Gonsalves cruised through the lower levels of the minors with three quality secondary offerings and a fastball that played above its velocity due to deception and a helpful spin axis. As he reached the upper levels, his ability to locate plateaued, and some would say it’s just gone backwards. His upper-80s fastball is vulnerable when it’s not in the right places, so Gonsalves has become a little walk-prone and gives up loud contact when he makes mistakes in the zone. Unless he can reclaim an ability to locate his fastball where it plays best (up near the letters), he’ll need to work heavily off his bevy of quality secondary offerings to get through a lineup multiple times. He’s on the IL to start the year (forearm) and looks like a No. 5 starter or low-leverage long reliever.
Given an above-slot bonus of $700,000 as a fourth-round steal, Gonsalves has justified the Twins’ faith after he pitched just 48 innings as a high school senior. Makeup concerns had caused him to drop after he was suspended eight games after covering for a teammate’s drug use during a national tournament. A shoulder strain landed Gonsalves on the shelf at the 2016 Arizona Fall League and again last spring, when he missed the first six weeks of the Double-A season. Once he returned, it didn’t take him long to show the same smooth repeatable delivery, feel for pitching and advanced command that pushed him up the prospect rankings. Tall with long levers, good mound presence and a three-quarters arm slot, he pitches at 88-91 mph and touches 94 mph with his fastball, which shows glove-side run and plays up due to deception and extension. He reads hitters well and works effectively at the top of the zone. He featured his 1-to-6 curveball more often in 2017, when it was a put-away pitch at times. His slurvy slider is just fringe-average with short tilt, but his changeup earns an above-average future grade due to its late fade and his ability to maintain arm speed. He throws slightly across his body, but his shoulder issues aren’t traceable to his mechanics. One of three starters added to the 40-man roster in November, Gonsalves figures to open the year back at Triple-A Rochester. If he continues to hone his command and cut his walk rate, which reached a career-best 2.37 per nine innings in his second crack at Double-A, it shouldn’t be long before he is vying for a spot in the middle of the big league rotation. (2018)
After top-seven ERA finishes in the minors in the 2015-16 seasons, Gonsalves battled through shoulder strains at the Arizona Fall League and early in the 2017 season. The loss of a couple of ticks off his already-modest fastball led to some delivery tweaks that ultimately led to command issues last season, both before and after his big league debut. Scouting Report: Long-levered with generally good mound presence and a three-quarters arm slot, Gonsalves pitches in the high 80s now with an above-average changeup and two average breaking balls. His 1-to-6 curveball has flashed above-average in the past. The fastball used to touch 94 mph with glove-side run, but it’s ticked down though Gonsalves has shown the moxie to pitch through it. (2019)