Scottsdale, Ariz. -- Look around baseball's prospect lists and nowhere will you find the Colorado Rockies' Nelson Gonzalez. The right-handed reliever doesn't register nationally despite good minor league numbers and a successful stint in the Arizona Fall League in 2014.
And yet, while it's tempting to see his recent minor league career as that of a pitcher flying under the radar to the big leagues, that angle doesn't tell the whole story of the Dominican-born hurler's time with Colorado.
"That’s where he flies under the radar, is out there," Chris Forbes, the Rockies' player development manager, told Purple Row about Gonzalez's lack of prospect buzz. "In terms of within here, I don’t think he does at all."
While the Rockies are high on Gonzalez internally, that he's not well-known outside of Colorado makes sense; he's put up good numbers in his minor league career but they aren't otherworldly, logging 8.0 K/9 against 8.5 H/9 and 2.6 BB/9 in 293 career games. He's a power pitcher who had success in the AFL, but he doesn't reach upper 90s or rack up closer stats, having only seven minor league saves to his name.
But Gonzalez started really turning heads like Forbes' in 2015 when he navigated from Double-A New Britain to Triple-A Albuquerque and conquered the difficult Pacific Coast League. For the pitcher, success keyed on something surprisingly simple.
"When I came to Triple-A from Double-A, I already had the heads up," Gonzalez told Purple Row. "I knew the ball flies [in Albuquerque], so I knew I just had to keep doing the same thing I was doing in Double-A, throwing down in the zone, and that worked out well for me."
Work out for Gonzalez, it did; the righty appeared in 30 games with the Isotopes last summer, going 4-3 with a 3.00 ERA. He also saw his strikeout rates rise markedly, whiffing 51 batters in 51 Triple-A innings against just 17 walks.
"All my success is just from keeping it down in the zone," Gonzalez mused of his time with Albuquerque. "Whenever I needed to hit a spot, I was hitting a spot, and my off speed was fine when I was throwing down in the zone. They were working good for me."
To Forbes, the 26-year-old Gonzalez now has the big league world at his feet, and the Rockies are intrigued enough to give the hurler a legitimate opportunity this spring during camp.
"Obviously being invited to big league camp, he’s getting seen, he’s showing that he’s a reliable guy, and he’s also our guy," Forbes said. "It’s hard to predict how things shake out, but his name is going to be in the conversation this year. I can almost guarantee that."
Entering his tenth professional season, though, Gonzalez is experienced enough to know he need not worry about what he can't control with roster moves and promotions.
"I just want to stay healthy, and I hope I make it to the big leagues and find a spot on the team," Gonzalez said of his expectations this spring. "They haven’t told me anything yet, but spring is going good, I’m feeling really healthy, and I’m ready to compete in the games that we have now."
If Gonzalez can continue to throw the ball the way he has over the last 18 months, only good things will come for him, and a bullpen spot in Coors Field at some point this summer ought to be a safe bet.