Stephen Gonsalves is exactly where he wants to be. At least for now.
Gonsalves, the No. 3 prospect in the organization and No. 78 prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, is finally entrenched in Triple-A, after dominating Double-A over parts of the past three seasons. Outside of five games with the Red Wings at the end of 2017, Gonsalves was with Chattanooga from June 2016 until his promotion to Rochester three weeks ago.
In 182 innings with the Lookouts, Gonsalves had a 2.22 ERA, 29.0% strikeout rate, and 9.7% walk rate. Those numbers helped earn him Twins Minor League Pitcher of the Year after the 2016 season, and a spot on several publications’ top 100 prospects lists this offseason. After an up-and-down spring training, though, he was sent back to Chattanooga to open 2018.
“I had a slow spring,” he said of his velocity in Fort Myers. “I only threw two ‘pens in the offseason because I wanted to have a fresh arm coming into the season. They sent me back to where I was comfortable so I could find my groove.”
Gonsalves dealt with a shoulder issue two springs ago, delaying the start of his season by nearly two months, which may have been part of the reason he took it easy last offseason. After sitting in the high-80s with his fastball this March while he ramped it back up, he said his velocity his now back in the 90-92 range, occasionally hitting 94.
“I’m right where I need to be,” he said.
Triple-A pitching coach Stu Cliburn said Gonsalves also had some minor mechanical issues in the spring that he worked on with Double-A pitching coach Ivan Arteaga and coach Richard Salazar.
“His mechanics are getting back to where they were last year,” Cliburn said. “I don’t know what happened over the winter as far as some things that maybe got out of whack, but he’s back in rhythm now and back on time with everything.”
Gonsalves doesn’t have overpowering velocity, but features a four-pitch mix—fastball, changeup, curveball, slider–that keeps hitters off balance. His best pitch is his changeup, which he throws often and gets a lot of swinging strikes. In his final outing in Chattanooga, he estimated he threw it 35-40% of the time.
“The changeup is my go-to,” he said. “I get strike one and kind of go from there. See what their swing is. Try to get early contact. Throw my fastball, changeup, spin a curve in there every once in a while.”
Cliburn believes what Gonsalves lacks in overpowering stuff, he makes up for with movement, deception, and command.
“He has big upside,” said Cliburn. “He’s not a mid-90s fastball guy, but he’s got size, leverage, a feel to pitch. A changeup that can complement his fastball. He has some deception, hides the ball well coming out, and can hit his spots. He can spin the ball, and has late life around the plate.”
Gonsalves said one of his biggest goals this season is to have the confidence to throw any pitch in any count, and be able to throw them for strikes consistently. Although his walk rates suggest control isn’t a big issue, throwing his breaking ball for strikes, even when behind in the count, is a key to his development.
“I want to get all four pitches consistent,” he said. “Throwing all four sixty percent for strikes, be able to trust every pitch in every count. 2-0 curveball, I’ve never thrown any of those in my life. But [in recent outings] I think I threw a couple 3-2 curveballs. I’m feeling really good right now.”
Although he lacks high-end fastball velocity, he makes up for it with a high spin rate. Gonsalves said last year that he and spin-rate king Luke Bard had the highest spin rates among the organization’s minor leaguers. Along with his plus-changeup, that may help explain why he gets so many swings and misses.
Bard said after he learned about his spin rate, he placed an increased emphasis on pitching up in the zone, because high fastballs are more effective when they’re accompanied by a high spin rate. Gonsalves seems to have a similar idea.
“They tell me I have a lot of carry on the fastball,” he said of the information disseminated to him by the organization. “I don’t know if it’s spin rate or the axis of the spin, but my ball rises a little bit.”
Other than a rough outing in his last start, Gonsalves has pitched well since his promotion to Rochester. He has a 3.94 ERA, 26.7% strikeout rate, and 8.3% walk rate in 16 innings. With Trevor May and Ervin Santana nearing a return to the Twins, Gonsalves will likely spend most of the summer in Rochester, though that could change depending on what happens at the trade deadline. Regardless, if he stays healthy, he has a good chance to debut at some point in 2018, and will be a candidate to open 2019 in the starting rotation.
For now, Gonsalves is just happy to be back in Rochester, steadily working his way up the organizational ladder. By season’s end, if all goes well, he could be pitching in late-September for the first time in his career, with the Twins.
“Hopefully it’s going to be a long year,” he said.