The Boston Red Sox have an emerging farm system filled with future talent on the verge of boosting the big league squad.

Most of the hype surrounds position players such as Marcelo Mayer, Ceddanne Rafaela, Kyle Teel, Nick Yorke and Roman Anthony.

Since Brayan Bello graduated to Boston at the end of 2022, the focus on minor league pitching may be on the backburner for some Red Sox fans.

In 2023, one right-hander took a big step forward in his development and caught attention throughout the year.

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Wikelman Gonzalez signed with the Red Sox in 2018 when he was just 16 years old. The Venezuelan right-hander showed some upside in his first few seasons in the farm system with the consistent ability to rack up strikeouts against opposing hitters. Entering 2023, the lowest ratio of Gonzalez’s time in the Red Sox system was his 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings (K/9) in 2021 with Low-A Salem.

Gonzalez began this season with High-A Greenville. The numbers were not eye-popping initially, posting a 6-3 record with a 5.14 ERA in 15 starts for the Greenville Drive. One thing Gonzalez did continue to do was strikeout hitters at a high level with 105 in 63 innings, good for 15.0 K/9.

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Boston showed a tendency as an organization this season to give players a chance who had struggles at lower levels the chance to prove themselves at a higher level with trust through a promotion. Roman Anthony would be the perfect example of this pattern. The 2022 second-round pick went from hitting .228 in Low-A to hitting .294 with a .981 OPS in High-A.

Similarly, Gonzalez got the call to Double-A Portland in the middle of the season. The 21-year-old took that chance and ran with it. In 10 starts down the stretch for the Sea Dogs, Gonzalez went 3-1 with a 2.42 ERA in 48 1/3 innings with 63 strikeouts to 28 walks.

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Gonzalez’s shining moment to date came on July 23 with a Sunday start at Hadlock Field against the New Hampshire Fisher Cats. The right-hander did not allow a hit over six frames, allowing just one run with four walks and 10 strikeouts. The Portland bullpen shut down the final three frames to finish off a combined no-hitter as the Sea Dogs earned a 6-2 victory.

Gonzalez’s pure stuff has stood out with a quality repertoire in the minors. The young righty consistently challenges hitters with a hard fastball and compliments that with a plus breaking ball to mix his pitches well.

Portland manager Chad Epperson raved about Gonzalez’s growth and how much fun he brings to the ballpark with each start. Epperson even noted that Gonzalez’s stuff had similarities to Bello, who grew into the thick of Boston’s big league rotation for years to come in 2023.

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“Obviously with Gonzalez, this guy’s stuff is electric,” Epperson told in an interview when the Sea Dogs visited the Reading Fightin Phils. “You very rarely see stuff at that young of an age. I think you see where a lot of people see the Bello-type.”

While the pitch mix and strikeout totals headline Gonzalez’s profile, Epperson highlighted the starter’s improved ability in 2023 to bear down in tough situations and fight deeper into outings.

“He continues to work,” Epperson explained. “The guys puts in the work on the side. Just the maturity level of being able to work himself out of hams that he may not have been able to do last year. When he gets in those jams, he stands in the middle of the ring now and fights. He’s not on the ropes. You can see it in his demeanor. You can see it with his presence when he delivers the baseball. It’s exciting to watch this guy.”

The Red Sox could have a very promising young starter with dominant stuff on the rise in the near future. Gonzalez enters 2024 with a chance to consistently put together a quality season from start to finish.

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