Of the 39 pitchers who took the mound for the Red Sox’ Florida Complex League affiliate this year, none (outside of Chris Sale) might have stuck out more than right-hander Wilkelman Gonzalez.
The 19-year-old began the 2021 minor-league season in Fort Myers and was outstanding throughout the summer. In eight appearances (seven starts), he posted a 3.60 ERA and 2.83 FIP to go along with 46 strikeouts to eight walks over 35 innings of work.
On August 27, Gonzalez earned himself a promotion to Low-A Salem, where he closed out his year by putting up a miniscule 1.53 ERA and 3.98 FIP in addition to 20 strikeouts and eight walks across four starts spanning 17 2/3 innings pitched.
Among those in the FCL who accrued at least 35 innings in 2021, Gonzalez ranked eighth in strikeouts per nine innings (11.83), sixth in strikeout rate (32.6%), ninth in walk rate (5.7%), eighth in WHIP (1.06), and third in FIP, per FanGraphs.
Originally signed out of Venezuela for $250,000 in July 2018, Gonzalez began his professional career in the Dominican Summer League the following year. After the 2020 minor-league season was wiped out due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the 6-foot, 180 pound hurler made a strong impression in fall instructs and carried that momentum over into 2021.
Coming into the year, Gonzalez was not regarded by Baseball America as one of the top 30 prospects in Boston’s farm system. By early August (and a few weeks before getting promoted to Low-A), the athletic righty had moved up to No. 15 in BA’s midseason prospect rankings for the Red Sox organization.
“Gonzalez has been 93-95 mph with his fastball, while his changeup at 86-88 mph has been his best secondary pitch,” wrote Cundall. “He has shown the ability to turn it over, and the pitch now projects as above-average at least, when last fall it was his third pitch. He also has refined his breaking ball, switching from a slow, loopy curveball to a slider in the high-70s with average-to-better potential.”
While there is plenty to be encouraged about there, Cundall notes that scouts are somewhat concerned about Gonzalez’s unimposing frame and a delivery that requires some effort.
With that, Cundall writes, “there is some reliever risk, but regardless, he is a very exciting arm and one whose stock is well up this year.”
Gonzalez, who turns 20 in March, is projected by SoxProspects.com to begin the 2022 season where he ended the 2021 campaign: in Salem, and as a member of starting rotation there.
The 2022 season has the makings to be an important one for Gonzalez, as he can become eligible for the Rule 5 Draft for the first time in his career next winter.
(Picture of Wilkelman Gonzalez: Bryan Green/Flickr)