When looking for inspiration, Severino Gonzalez has a couple of pretty good role models.
One is Mariano Rivera, which is a pretty good choice for a pitcher, regardless of nationality. Given that both are from Panama, Rivera’s status in the game takes on a greater impact for Gonzalez.
Then there is Carlos Ruiz. Well known to all Panamanians, Gonzalez has latched onto Ruiz because they are from nearby towns. But given that Gonzalez is a pitcher in the Phillies organization with pinpoint control and a repertoire of pitches that the Phillies’ brass says is reminiscent of Rivera, perhaps there is a chance the team could have an all-Panama battery.
“In spring training was the first time I met him,” Gonzalez said. “The relationship grew from that.”
Gonzalez said Ruiz took him out for dinner and gave him advice when he could. For a kid who watched the 2008 World Series and felt like he was out there celebrating with his countryman when the Phillies won, it was pretty heady stuff for Gonzalez.
But whatever Ruiz passed on must have been pretty good because the right-handed pitcher put together a phenomenal season. Starting in extended spring training, the 6-foot-1, 150-pounder who still wears braces on his teeth, moved to low-A ball in Lakewood before moving to high-A Clearwater as a roster filler.
As it turned out, Gonzalez was a little more than just a guy on the bench. In 20 outings at Clearwater, including nine starts, the righty posted a 2.02 ERA with 82 strikeouts in 75 innings. By the end of the year, he was at Double A Reading for a start and on Monday and Tuesday he was in Philadelphia with Reading teammate Maikel Franco to pick up his hardware for winning the Paul Owens Award.
Given to the top pitcher and hitter in the Phillies system, Gonzalez won the Paul Owens Award, though he escaped much of the notice that Franco received. Gonzalez’s record wasn’t spectacular at 7-5, but he posted a 2.00 ERA between three teams with 119 strikeouts in 103 2/3 innings with just 22 walks. Gonzalez had 19 walks in 20 games and 75 2/3 innings for Clearwater.
Just 20 years old, Gonzalez understands that good things happen when a pitcher throws strikes.
“I just didn’t want to walk anyone,” Gonzalez said. “I just kept throwing strikes and that was what I was after.”
Like Rivera, Gonzalez throws a cutter that he moves in and out on hitters. He says he needs to work on his changeup, but he has been able to get away without one so far. In the meantime, Gonzalez likely will start the 2014 season at Double A where he can work on his repertoire.
Franco will probably be at Triple A to start the 2014 season, though an invitation to big-league camp in the spring isn’t far-fetched. Franco belted 31 homers with 103 RBIs and a .320 batting average in 134 games with Clearwater and Reading. His 70 extra-base hits led the minors and got some notice from Phils’ interim manager Ryne Sandberg.
If Franco were to get an invite to big-league camp, Sandberg -- if he is still the manager -- would be excited to see what he can do.
“A guy like him, if he’s in spring training next year, it’ll be the first time for a lot of people to get a look at him and see what he looks like on a field with major leaguers and get him a taste of that,” Sandberg said. “I think (Cody) Asche experienced that last year coming to big-league camp. Sometimes they can gauge what they need to work on, and also gauge where they stand compared to big leaguers.”
Of course there is the issue of a position for Franco, who has played third base for all but eight games last year. He dabbled a bit at first base for Reading and said he felt comfortable with it. However, Asche looks to have an inside track on the third base job next spring and Ryan Howard has first base locked up for a couple more seasons.
Where does that leave Franco if he continues to tear up minor-league pitching?
“Whatever position they want me to play, I’ll play,” Franco said. “Everybody wants to play in the big leagues. That’s my point. I want to play in the big leagues. I don’t care what position I play, I want to play in the big leagues.”
Franco is getting closer. In the meantime, he’ll spend the winter playing for San Francisco de Macorís in the Dominican Winter League. But while Franco was hanging around Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday, Sandberg wondered if there was an extra uniform he could use.