Tony Gonsolin made a name for himself last year. After meriting a mere mention in last spring’s Los Angeles Dodgers top prospect rundown, the 24-year-old right-hander went on to be named the NL West team’s 2018 Minor League Pitcher of the Year. A role change jumpstarted his breakout.
Primarily a reliever in his four years at St. Mary’s College of California, Gonsolin continued in that role after the Dodgers selected him in the ninth round of the 2016 draft. That changed once the forward-thinking organization got an extended look at what he brings to the table. Intrigued by his velocity, multi-pitch mix, and 6-foot-2, 205-pound frame, they decided to try him as a starter.
The results were a resounding success. Pitching between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa, the St. Mary’s graduate — he earned a business degree before turning pro — Gonsolin logged a 2.60 ERA and allowed just 104 hits, while fanning 155 batters, in 128 innings.
Gonsolin discussed his development, including his transition from reliever to starter, earlier this month. Also weighing in on the promising young pitcher was Brandon Gomes, the Dodgers director of player development.
Gonsolin on pitching analytics and his fastball: “I feel like every team is moving in that direction — they’re getting into more of the analytical side of baseball. Here, we have things like video with instant feedback where you can throw a pitch in your side work and by the time you get the ball back from the catcher you know how much it spun, and the axis in which it spun. That makes it easier to make pitch-to-pitch adjustments within the training element. Once you’re in-game it becomes, ‘What you have that day is what you have that day.’ You work with that.
“I came into professional baseball thinking I threw a sinker. I wanted to get ground balls and whatnot, when little did I know, my ball tends to not sink. It doesn’t have the characteristics of a traditional sinker, so I kind of had to change my mentality.
“I changed from a two-seam grip to a four-seam grip in instructs in 2016. I threw a two-inning simulated game where it was, ‘OK, the first thing you’re going to do is throw all four-seams and then, secondly, you’re going to throw all two-seams.’ I did, and then it was, ‘Your ball doesn’t sink.’ The [readings] showed that. They said I should probably switch to a four-seamer, and I was like, ‘Well, I can’t argue with that.’
“I didn’t have to relearn how to pitch, but I did need to change my visuals in order to get the ball where I wanted it to go. That’s still a work-in-progress, in a way. I’m still trying to consistently locate the ball effectively up in the zone. Hopefully one day it will click to where when I want to throw a fastball up, it will be, ‘OK, cool; fastball up.’ I’ll know that I won’t miss down. It’s also about picking the right situations, the right spots, to execute that pitch.”
On being clocked as high as 100 mph: “I think that comes from a few different things. I hit 100 on the gun in 2017, as a reliever. Out of college I was topping out at 95. I was also a two-way player in college. That made for more stress on my body than I realized at the time, so becoming a pitcher only was a big factor. I also did a weighted-ball program with the Dodgers, before spring training, which probably helped as well.”
On his split/change: “I started working on it in spring training of 2017. I was basically trying to figure out a changeup grip that works for me. Tim Hudson was a pitcher I liked growing up, and wondering how he threw his was kind of how it started. [Joel] Peralta was with us in spring training with us that year — he’s known for his splitter — and he talked to everybody about how he throws his. I took things I liked from that and kind of made my own.
“Is it my second-best pitch? Probably. I try not to rank my pitches, because I like to feel confident throwing any of my pitches at any time — I have the curveball and slider, as well — but people do tell me that it is.”
On becoming a starter: “Whenever we were short and needed someone to make a spot start, I would let the manager know that I could do it. So I never really ‘asked’ to be a starter, but at the same time I wasn’t opposed to it in any shape or form.
“In spring training of this past year they asked, ‘Hey, how do feel about using all of your pitches and being a starter? Instead of throwing one or two innings, you’ll throw five or six.’ I was like, ‘Let’s do it.’”
On being teammates with Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Corbin Burnes at St. Mary’s: “I don’t know if I really learned so much about pitching from him. It’s more that I quietly watched how he went about his business and handled himself. It’s nice to see one of my good friends not only make it, but also have an impact and pitch in the playoffs. It’s awesome. Hopefully someday I can do the same.”
Brandon Gomes on Gonsolin: “Tony was outstanding all year. He has four above-average pitches, and was up to 100 (mph) in 2017, so we wanted to see if he would want to start. Tony was excited about the idea and we stretched him out during spring training.
“His fastball has strong ride. He maintained mid-90s velocity as a starter, which can be attributed to his attention to detail and excellent work ethic, and his ability to land multiple off-speed pitches in the zone is unique. His split/change is a wipeout pitch. He also features an upper-80s/low-90s slider, as well as a plus curveball.
“Tony mixes fastball/offspeed at a 50/50 clip, making him unpredictable. We liken his profile to a Ross Stripling-type pitcher where he can be utilized in many different valuable roles.”
David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.