Impressive year lands reliever Gonzalez on 40-man

Rockies protect right-hander from upcoming Rule 5 Draft

Impressive year lands reliever Gonzalez on 40-man

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Rockies right-handed pitching prospect Rayan Gonzalez can stop conversations with his 96 mph cut fastball and 12-to-6 curveball.

Last week, at an Arizona Fall League game at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick, new Rockies manager Bud Black paused his conversation right after Gonzalez's first pitch in his relief outing for the Salt River Rafters. Zach Wilson, Colorado's senior player development director, turned to Black, nodded his head and offered a "told-you-so" grin.

Gonzalez demonstrated improved control at Double-A Hartford (2-2, 3.12 ERA in 46 games) and again in the AFL (12 strikeouts against two walks in 11 2/3 innings, to go along with a 2.31 ERA).

The 26-year-old soon could be sparking big league conversations.

On Friday, the Rockies placed him on their 40-man Major League roster, which makes him eligible to later be placed on the 25-man Major League active roster. He'll appear in his first Major League Spring Training in 2017.

• Rockies promote 5 pitchers to 40-man roster

The Rockies drafted Gonzalez, a native of Arecibo, Puerto Rico, in the 21st round of the 2012 Draft out of Bethune-Cookman University. The wait has been long for Gonzalez, who was drafted by the Athletics in the 18th round in 2011 but decided to return to Bethune-Cookman for his senior year.

A starter in college, Gonzalez has since converted to relief and racked up the strikeouts (235 in 208 1/3 innings in pro ball). He finally found his comfort level at Hartford.

"This came from trial and error, trying to see what routine works best," Gonzalez said. "I'd go out there and see at the end of the day if it was good or bad. Every time, I'm really, really locked in. I'm really focused on my target. It was a big impact on my success this year."

It takes a lot of concentration to harness an arm that, at times, was too big for him to handle.

Gonzalez entered 2015 ranked the Rockies' No. 21 prospect by MLB.com. But at Class A Advanced Modesto, he had an abdominal injury that limited him to 22 1/3 innings that season. When he pitched, he struggled, going 1-3 with a 6.45 ERA, 25 strikeouts and 13 walks.

By improving his control, he made a major leap in 2016. Not only has his fastball improved, but the breaking pitch he used in college -- a "slurve," or something between a slider and a curve -- has evolved into a curveball with nasty action.

"Nothing is even close to straight -- it's top-notch stuff, that's for sure," said infield prospect Ryan McMahon, an AFL teammate of Gonzalez.

"He always had good stuff but when he was in Modesto, he could never control how his cutter was going to move -- sometimes it had big movement, sometimes it had short, quick movement," said Doug Linton, the Rockies' pitching coordinator. "As a pitcher and a catcher, when you don't have any idea what your pitch is going to do, it makes it difficult on both parties. But in Double-A, he started coming to grips with what his cutter was going to do. It's a matter of keeping plus stuff in the strike zone.

"The curveball in Double-A and in the Fall League has been an emphasis, and he's been able to be more aggressive with it. The cutter is his No. 1 pitch and the changeup is No. 2, but the curveball is coming more into play where it's an equalizer along with his changeup. He's able to throw it for a strike when he wants and knows how to bury it against a hitter."

Thomas Harding has covered the Rockies since 2000, and for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @harding_at_mlb, listen to podcasts and like his Facebook page. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.