First-round pick Gonzales thrilled to join Cardinals

First-round pick Gonzales thrilled to join Cardinals

ST. LOUIS -- Though he had already signed his contract to officially join the organization, Marco Gonzales was unofficially initiated by taking part in a Cardinals ritual Wednesday.

Gonzales -- clad in a red Cardinals uniform with his draft year, No. 13, across his back -- threw a bullpen at Busch Stadium while the starting rotation looked on as they would for any St. Louis starter.

"I was pretty starstruck," Gonzales said. "Afterwards they just gave a fist bump, handshake and just said 'good job' and 'good luck.' ... I'm just overjoyed to be here and couldn't think of a better organization to be in."

The No. 19 overall pick passed his physical and signed with the organization Wednesday. After taking in the Cardinals evening game against the Cubs, he will leave Thursday for Jupiter, Fla., where he will play for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals, joining fellow Draft Day 1 selections Rob Kaminsky (No. 28) and Oscar Mercado (No. 57).

The left-hander from Gonzaga had an opportunity to meet many players who he hopes will be his future teammates, including Adam Wainwright, Shelby Miller and David Freese, whom he calls one of his baseball heroes.

"I love that guy. He's one of my favorite players," Gonzales said. "Just seeing those guys in real life, it's really awesome."

Gonzales becomes the latest Cardinals pitching talent selected with the No. 19 pick, a selection with which the Cardinals have had excellent success of late. Miller, who is fourth in the Majors in ERA (2.08), and top pitching prospect Michael Wacha, who also made a brief stint in the rotation this season, were both selected out of high school with the 19th pick in 2009 and 2012, respectively.

But Wacha's rapid ascendance through the Minor Leagues and to a brief big league debut in less than a year is not a path that many will follow.

"I'm going to try not to put too many expectations on it. Just do what I do best and try to win ballgames," Gonzales said. "And if that's getting here in a year, then that's amazing, but I'm going to take advantage of every opportunity I can get."

"Wacha's workload and where he is coming in is different than where Marco is coming in," said scouting director Dan Kantrovitz. "The only similarity they have is, from a talent standpoint, they're both clearly above the level of competition in the GCL. But we're sending him there so that we can carefully manage that workload without it being an environment where it starts to get inappropriate with the level of competition."

Gonzales pitched a team-high 106 innings as junior at Gonzaga, going 7-3 with a 2.80 ERA. Although he says his arm feels as if he's only one-third of the way through a college season, his heavy workload this spring combined with playing for USA Baseball's Collegiate National Team last summer will have the Cardinals taking a cautious approach with his usage this year.

"We're going to err on the side of caution," Kantrovitz said. "We don't want to get too aggressive with expectations at this point, and that's why we're sending him to the GCL so we can keep a finger on that."

For now, Gonzales is content just soaking it all in.

"I'm here in my job, my career and just playing the game I love," he said. "Suiting up today, it has definitely set in that this is where I'm meant to be."

Chad Thornburg is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.