Before the season kicked off, Marco Gonzales had all the makings of a pitcher who could move quickly in 2014.
He was coming fresh out of Gonzaga, where he was twice named West Coast Conference Co-Player of the Year. He was a 2013 first-round pick by the Cardinals, who have a history of finding and developing young talent to keep their Major League club competitive and replenished year after year. For those who look a little too far into things, he was taken 19th overall -- the very same spot where the Cards drafted Michael Wacha, the definition of a quick-moving pitcher, in 2012.
The only part of the formula left was the actual success that would lead to his climbing the ladder.
Well, he's taking care of that last part.
Gonzales scattered seven hits and a walk over a career-high eight innings on Sunday afternoon, pitching Class A Advanced Palm Beach to a 7-0 blanking of Jupiter at Roger Dean Stadium.
The 22-year-old left-hander made his living on the ground, inducing 15 groundouts compared to four flyouts and one strikeout. He also forced the Hammerheads into four double plays, three of which came on ground balls.
That was the result of one pitch in particular.
"He's got such a good changeup," Palm Beach manager Dann Bilardello said. "He's got enough velocity on his fastball that it allows guys not to sit on any one pitch. They can't sit on the changeup, as good as it is, because if they do he throws a fastball and they're not ready for it, so they roll it over. He does a really good job of keeping hitters off-balance like that."
Thanks to the inning-saving double plays, Gonzales was able to keep his pitch count low, totaling 94 before being pulled after the eighth. It was the first time he had gone past the seventh inning in his brief pro career.
Through his first five starts of the season, the Cardinals' No. 5 prospect is 2-1 with a 1.42 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, 24 strikeouts and seven walks in 31 2/3 innings. He hasn't allowed more than three earned runs in an outing and has completed at least six innings in each of his last four starts.
But according to Bilardello, Sunday's outing was Gonzales's best since he struck out seven and allowed three hits in his season debut against Bradenton on April 9.
"He was real sharp in that first game," Bilardello said. "I think he was more down in his first start, but overall his fastball command was good both times. The only trouble he has is when he tries to get too fine, but he can recover, like we saw today."
With nine career Class A Advanced starts under Gonzales' belt, the Cardinals might want to see him post just a few more quality starts before bumping him up to Double-A Springfield. But if his destiny as a fast-mover and his quality results are any indication, he might not be much longer for the FSL.
"I heard a lot about him coming in, obviously, but after seeing him I can tell you, he's got good composure, he's got a ton of confidence and he's got a great secondary pitch," Bilardello said. "If you can throw the fastball for strikes and the changeup as confidently as he has, you're going to have success.
"In order to make that next step, he'll have to improve on his breaking ball a bit, and I think that's something that's coming and something he's very capable of doing. Add all that in and there a lot of positives to talk about."
Third baseman Breyvic Valera went 3-for-4 with a triple, two RBIs and two runs scored for Palm Beach, which has won four straight.