Panamanian prospect develops with help from Ruiz

Carlos Ruiz "is kind of like a father to me," Gonzalez saidof the veteran catcher.
Carlos Ruiz "is kind of like a father to me," Gonzalez saidof the veteran catcher. (YONG KIM / Staff)
Posted: September 21, 2013

The Phillies departed Florida for Philadelphia in April without Carlos Ruiz, and extended spring training became his purgatory during a 25-game drug suspension.

Allan Lewis, the Panamanian scout who signed Ruiz for $8,000, called his pupil. He offered support and some advice: Find a young pitcher named Severino Gonzalez at the training complex.

"Take care of him," Lewis told Ruiz.

Ruiz recalled his first months in America. He spoke little English. His friends were Dominican or Venezuelan. There was no one from Panama.

He introduced himself to Gonzalez. Ruiz caught a bullpen session. Then he batted against the Panamanian, and the admiration grew. They started eating lunch after practice. Ruiz conveyed lessons about baseball and life.

"That's something I feel I should do," Ruiz said.

When Gonzalez arrived in Philadelphia earlier this week to accept the Paul Owens Award as the Phillies' best minor-league pitcher, Ruiz invited Gonzalez's mother and sister to his South Jersey home. Gonzalez signed for $14,000 in April 2011, had never set foot in America until this spring, and finished the season at double-A Reading.

The wiry 20-year-old righthander sat in the dugout at Citizens Bank Park and looked timid. He said few words through a translator. But he smiled when a questioner used Ruiz's name.

"Carlos Ruiz is kind of like a father to me," Gonzalez said.

The pitcher, after forging a relationship with Ruiz, transformed from inventory to real prospect in four months. He does not throw hard - his fastball tops in the low 90s - but possesses precise control unusual for an arm with such limited experience. Gonzalez struck out 119 and walked 22 in 1032/3 innings this season.

"It's a gift," Gonzalez said. "A God-given gift. I've always had it."

He throws a cutter that is modeled after that of another Panamanian, Mariano Rivera. Benny Looper, the Phillies' assistant general manager, said Gonzalez could ride a fast track to the majors because of his fastball command. Reading is his expected starting point for 2014. Progress on a change-up is required, but Looper sees a pitcher able to handle challenges.

"He looks underdeveloped," Looper said. "He's going to get bigger and stronger. He can really pitch. He's fun to watch. He's real competitive on the mound. He doesn't mind throwing inside. He pitches like a veteran."

Ruiz, in his eighth major-league season, has seen enough young pitchers to know the legitimate ones. He echoed Looper's assessment.

"His control, that's the key for him," Ruiz said. "He throws a lot of strikes. He looked relaxed on the mound. He looked like a veteran."

The two Panamanians plan to train together in their home country this winter. Gonzalez hails from Santiago de Veragua, three hours from Ruiz's residence in David. Ruiz, a free agent at season's end, said he wants to catch more of Gonzalez's throwing sessions.

"I would like to be close to him," Ruiz said. "It's motivation to continue to work hard."

Gonzalez used the word orgulloso five times during his brief encounter with reporters. He said he was proud - proud of his season, proud of comparisons to Rivera, and proud to know Ruiz.

He fiddled on his smartphone when a Hall of Famer, Pat Gillick, introduced himself. Gillick spoke in broken Spanish. He wished Gonzalez luck. Buena suerte. The pitcher lingered on the dugout steps.

"He would always listen to me," Ruiz said. "I was real happy for the kind of year he had. I told him, 'You can feel it. You're here. The big leagues.' "


BY THE NUMBERS

The Phillies close out their home schedule Sunday against the Mets. Despite being 10 games below .500 overall, the Phils have been a reasonably good home team.

43-35

Phils' home record this year, while just 71-81 overall.

40-41

Phils' home record last year (81-81 overall)

49-33

Phils' average home record in the five division title years (2007-11)


Contact Matt Gelb

at mgelb@phillynews.com.

Follow on Twitter @magelb.

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