Gio Gonzalez is off to a fast start with his former team at Double-A Birmingham.
A 2004 first-round supplemental pick of the White Sox, Gonzalez was dealt to Philadelphia in the Jim Thome trade at the end of the 2005 season. After spending 13 months in red pinstripes, White Sox general manager Kenny Williams brought Gonzalez back to the organization. After seeing every one of the 21-year-old's starts in the Arizona Fall League, Williams dealt for Gonzalez and righthander Gavin Floyd in exchange for righthander Freddy Garcia.
It's been so far, so good in Gonzalez' return to the White Sox, two starts, two wins and 15 strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings at Double-A Birmingham.
In those two outings, Gonzalez' fastball has been up to 93 mph, and his low-80s hammer curveball and changeup have both been above-average to plus pitches.
"He's got everything you want to see in a prospect," first-year farm director Alan Regier said. "He's matured both on and off the field, the stuff is there, the passion for the game is there."
The two question marks coming into last season were Gonzalez' durability–minor injuries cut his first two seasons short with the Sox–and then there is the home run issue. Gonzalez left a lot of pitches up in the zone last season, allowing a whopping 24 homers as a 20-year-old at Double-A Reading.
But he turned a corner in the Fall League, answering both questions with authority. Gonzalez finished the year healthy and only allowed one home run in 16 innings in the hitter-friendly AFL.
"Gio's going to pitch up in the zone," Regier said. "That's his style. He'll challenge up, and we're not going to change that. We'd just like to see more of a mix of all his pitches and I think through the maturing process he's learned that.
"I haven't seen any durability concerns through the spring–his delivery is clean and he repeats it extremely well."
Gonzalez went 5 1/3 innings on Wednesday in the second game of a doubleheader sweep against Mobile, with righthanded reliever Dewon Day recording his third save of the season with five strikeouts in 1 2/3 shutout innings.
Day, a 26th-round pick of the Blue Jays in 2002, came over to Chicago in the minor league phase of the 2005 Rule 5 draft.
Pro scout Jaymie Bane originally signed Day with Toronto, then the White Sox plucked the righthander via the Rule 5 when Bane went to work for Chicago three years later.
Day pitched all last season as a 25-year-old at high Class A Winston-Salem, then, like Gonzalez, really struck a chord with scouts in the AFL.
"This is the lump of clay every scout wants to sign," Regier said. "He's the guy every player-development person cherishes having and having the opportunity to mold.
"It's been a slow process–he really took baby steps last year until he opened a lot of eyes in the fall. Jaymie Bane deserves a lot of credit for recognizing his talent."
Day's slider was always a go-to pitch for him, but when his fastball command came around last season it had scouts in the stands at Peoria buzzing for a potential sleeper find.
"His slider is a 60 (on the 20-80 scouting scale) every night," Regier said. "And some nights it's a 70. It's been more about him trusting the fastball and not wanting to throw nine sliders in a row to get out of an inning more than anything else. We've really tried to get him to balance out the use of the fastball-slider mix."
As a 26-year-old, Day is a late-bloomer with only limited experience–coming into this season, he'd only thrown 119 innings over four seasons. And as Cubs scouting director Tim Wilken says, "They don't check IDs on the mound."
"If he was a position player in Double-A at 26, you'd say to yourself, 'Well, I don't know,' " Regier said. "But this is a 26-year-old with a fresh arm and a really good body. He has to feel like Tattoo on Fantasy Island right now after being in big league camp all spring. He's not too far away."