Gonzales' college coach saw it early: 'This guy has a presence'
JUN 25, 2014 11:13a ET
It was four summers ago when Gonzaga coach Mark Machtolf went to see one of his incoming freshmen pitch for the Wenatchee (Wash.) AppleSox, a collegiate summer-league team.
After watching Marco Gonzales for just two innings, Machtolf knew the Zags had landed a good one.
"It was like, 'Oh my goodness, this guy has a presence,'" Machtolf said. "He looked like Tommy John or somebody who'd been pitching in the big leagues for 15 years."
When Gonzales landed on campus later that summer, it was more of the same.
"From the very first day, you could see a God-given composure that you knew would serve him well," Machtolf said.
And so it has. With a calm and a confidence -- and a nasty changeup -- Gonzales has arrived in the major leagues barely a year after the Cardinals selected him with the 19th pick of the 2013 draft.
The 22-year-old left-hander will make his debut this afternoon against the Colorado Rockies, who also will be sending out a left-hander for his first big-league start, 28-year-old Dominican Yohan Flande.
Flande has spent the season with Colorado Springs -- where he's 2-9 with a 4.42 ERA -- but Gonzales has years more experience pitching at 5,000-plus feet above sea level. He grew up in Fort Collins, Colo., which is about an hour's drive from Coors Field and also sits about a mile high.
If you watched the Cardinals and Rockies bang out 28 hits Tuesday night in what was a typical game at Coors Field, you know that baseball is different in Denver. The park is huge and the ball flies. It is not a place for weak-minded pitchers, but the lessons learned pitching at altitude have paid off for Gonzales.
"It helped develop him as far as being able to spot the ball and keep the ball down," said Machtolf, pointing out two of Gonzales' strengths.
Gonzales also is known for a changeup that might be just as advanced as the one that belongs to Michael Wacha, the Cardinals' first-round pick (also 19th overall) the year before Gonzales.
"I taught him that," Machtolf said, before chuckling. "I'm just kidding. I would like to take credit for that.
"But he showed up with pretty much everything. The fastball has gotten better as he's gotten stronger, but he's always been able to locate it. He's had the ability to work both sides of the plate and a knack for getting hitters out that is remarkable. His changeup was there from Day One."
The son of a Rockies minor-league pitching coach, Gonzales had used his changeup to help pitch Rocky Mountain High School to four consecutive state championships. That's right, four. Gonzales was the starting and winning pitcher in every final of his high school career, a feat that you don't run across very often.
"For him to get that far in four of those games and win is one of the most amazing stats I've heard in my years in baseball," said Machtolf, who said he began recruiting Gonzales before his junior year.
While Gonzales' debut is a big deal to the Cardinals and a huge deal in his hometown -- more than 200 friends and family members are expected to be at the game -- it's important at Gonzaga, too. Machtolf and his staff are planning to attend the game.
Machtolf said he has exchanged text messages since Gonzales learned the news but has avoided calling him to not add to what already is a daunting situation.
"Regardless of how mature you are, making your major-league debut in your hometown, and at Coors Field, can be a little overwhelming," Machtolf said Tuesday by phone. "I hope he'll keep the ball down and do great but regardless, it's one of many.
"I know he'll handle himself."
He's been doing that for years.