ARLINGTON -- Alex Gonzalez, the Rangers' top Draft pick in 2013 and their No. 5 prospect according to MLB.com, is coming to his first Major League Spring Training next month. The Rangers' work in rebuilding their rotation this winter means they might be able to keep their hands off him at the end of camp.
By re-signing Colby Lewis and trading for Yovani Gallardo, Ross Detwiler and Anthony Ranaudo, the Rangers have put themselves in position to let Gonzalez and other young starters continue their development in the Minor Leagues rather than being pushed to the big leagues prematurely.
"We've known it all along," general manager Jon Daniels said. "If you don't have enough in March and April, you're going to be hard-pressed to have enough at the end. Certainly after what we went through last year, we wanted to make sure we're protected and at the same time not be in a position where we're forced to rush guys that weren't ready. Hopefully we've accomplished both things."
If so, this would be the first time in four years the Rangers open the season without a pitcher on the roster who was being jumped from Double-A Frisco. The Rangers did that with Robbie Ross Jr. in 2012, Nick Tepesch in 2013 and Nick Martinez in 2014. All three made the team in Spring Training after just a partial season in Double-A.
Gonzalez is in a similar situation. He began last season at Class A Advanced Myrtle Beach and was promoted to Frisco after going 5-2 with a 2.63 ERA in 11 starts. He continued to flourish at Frisco, going 7-4 with a 2.71 ERA in 15 outings.
In previous years, that would put him in position to compete for a spot in the rotation, and that appeared to be the case at the start of the offseason. But things have changed. With Lewis, Gallardo, Derek Holland and Yu Darvish locked into the rotation, the fifth spot right now appears to come down to Detwiler, Ranaudo, Tepesch, Martinez and Lisalverto Bonilla.
Gonzalez could force his way into the mix -- people often have been known to get giddy over Spring Training performances -- but right now he is a long shot at best.
"Sitting here today, my head is to send him to Triple-A," Daniels said. "I want to be open minded to it. But he'd have to be well ahead of everybody else. It's not just a competition for me in terms of performance in Spring Training, it's all the little things the coaching staff is going to need to see that he can do. Not just him, but everybody.
"We're open minded to it in unique circumstances, but in a perfect world, he gets some more development time for when he comes up, he's not just ready to get his feet wet, but ready to contribute."
Having a top pitching prospect getting significant time at Triple-A would be almost a novel idea for the Rangers. Over the past nine seasons, they have had just one pitcher drafted by the organization win at least 10 games in a season at Triple-A. That was Michael Kirkman, a 13-game winner and Pacific Coast League Player of the Year in 2010.
Holland, drafted in 2006, had just one start in Triple-A before being brought to the big leagues on April 18, 2009. He spent the rest of the season with the Rangers and went 8-13 with a 6.12 ERA. Holland was back at Triple-A to start 2010 and got 11 extra starts there before finally reaching the Major Leagues for good at the end of the season.
Gonzalez isn't the only Rangers rookie pitcher coming to camp for the first time. He will be joined by starters Jerad Eickhoff, Alec Asher and Luke Jackson, and reliever Keone Kela. Jackson is the only one of the group who has pitched in Triple-A.
The 45th overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Jackson was 8-2 with a 3.04 ERA in 15 games at Frisco last season before being promoted to Triple-A. He appeared to be on the expressway to a September callup until he went 1-3 with a 10.35 ERA in 11 games at Round Rock.
Instead of being in Arlington, Jackson could be a part of a prospect-laden pitching staff at Triple-A this year. That would be a significant development for an organization that keeps expressing a desire to develop its own pitching from within. The work done this offseason may allow the Rangers to get it right this time.