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Gonzalez Earns MWL Player of the Week, Helps Ignite Fire for Captains’ Second Half

Gonzalez Earns MWL Player of the Week, Helps Ignite Fire for Captains’ Second Half

| On 18, Jul 2013

It’s impressive for any player to receive recognition for their playing abilities. Whether selected as an All-Star or acknowledged by the organization as a Player of the Week, a lauding of skills lets a player know that they are not only being noticed, but appreciated for their efforts.

For a team like the Lake County Captains, who struggled in the first half of the season, those recognitions do not come easy. Therefore, it became extra-impressive when third baseman Erik Gonzalez was selected as the Midwest League Player of the Week for the week of July 1-7.

Gonzalez is the first Lake County Captains player to receive this recognition this season.

The award is well-deserved, though. For the week of his recognition, Gonzalez went 11-29 in his at-bats, hitting .379. He had seven hits, including two home runs, one triple, and drove in 10 RBI’s. Luckily for the Captains, his talent did not end with that week.

The 21 year-old from Puerto Plata in the Dominican Republic, embarked on a 10-game hitting streak through July 13, including having three 2-hit games and a 3-hit appearance on July 4. Gonzalez has hit .308 in his last 10 games as of July 16, with 12 hits including three home runs. He has driven in 10 RBI’s in those 10 games. He also has only been struck out three times and drawn no walks. His OPS for July 4 through July 15 is an impressive .940.

His hitting prowess has been relatively consistent throughout the season. With the most game appearances for the Captains (Gonzalez has appeared in 86 games), he has also scored the most runs (56), and is a leader in most other hitting categories, as well. Gonzalez, Logan Vick, and Dorssys Paulino are in a 3-way tie for most doubles with 18. Gonzalez also leads the team in triples (6), RBI’s (43), and total bases (137). He is second in home runs with eight, with Eric Haase leading the team with 10. Gonzalez trails Vick in stolen bases, with Gonzalez having stolen 9 as compared to Vick’s 17.

Gonzalez is batting .254 on the season, with a .725 OPS. He hits .282 with runners in scoring position, a situation that the Captains have no excelled in throughout most of the season as they frequently strand men on base throughout their games.

Although his 2012 season does not boast exceptionally high numbers – he hit .220 with 47 hits, two home runs and 18 RBI’s – Gonzalez is no stranger to success in the game. Signed in August of 2008 as a non-drafted free agent, he has had strong seasons throughout his time in the minors. In 2010, Gonzalez was named a DSL Mid-Season All-Star. He went on to bat .346 in 2010.

Although he was long alone in his high numbers on the season, the Captains as a whole have seemed to feed off strong performances such as Gonzalez’s as of late. At 13-11 during the second half as of July 16, the Captains have increased their hitting abilities and have overall been playing much better baseball since the Midwest League All-Star break.

Manager Scooter Tucker believes that strong performances by players can be contagious, and has no real explanation for the team’s turn-around other than feeding off the successes of players such as Gonzalez.

Tucker also commented that settling into somewhat of an expected lineup with the team helps their batting, as well.

“It helps guys once they get comfortable with a place in the lineup. In reality, it shouldn’t make a difference, but it does,” Tucker said after the Captains’ July 3 game in which they set a Midwest League season record for having 21 hits in a game. “I know how they feel. I think as guys get comfortable in a place, it helps.

Hitting Coach Tony Mansolino echoed Tucker’s sentiments, even joking that perhaps the fact that he cancelled a few batting practices led to the team’s sudden outburst at the plate.

“We hit the ball well in Dayton, we worked hard,” Tucker said at the beginning of July. “Maybe we really did need a little break from BP, from the daily grind.”

Mansolino said that all-around improved plate appearances have really helped the team as the season progresses.

“[I’m seeing] better at-bats,” Mansolino said. “Scooter and I have been preaching, ‘Don’t go out there and swing at the first pitch in your first at-bat; don’t put a swing on the ball just because you’re scared of going down in the count.’ Guys don’t want to go down 0-1. But we’re seeing more guys go out there and take a few pitches.

“That has a few effects,” Mansolino continued. “One, it gets you more comfortable as a hitter in your following at-bats; you’ve seen what he has. Two, it gets their starting pitcher out of there.”

Gonzalez truly seems to be working with these ideas of strong at-bats and feeding off contagious hitting. So far for the month of July, Gonzalez is hitting .308 with a .859 OPS. Although the team as a whole is hitting .244, it’s a much-improved stat from the first half of the season.

“In our game, there’s peaks and valleys in it,” Tucker said of the way his team has been playing in the start of the second half. “My college coach told me, ‘If you ever find a way to level off your peaks and valleys, and just be steady, you’ll be good.’ You look at teams that are winning, sure they’ll have hot streaks, but they’ll have cold ones, too. They tend to be more monotonous. They win series after series – they may not sweep, they may not win 10 in a row, but they win series after series after series.”

Although they have again hit a rough patch, losing two series in a row on the road, the Captains certainly have the second-half potential to do much bigger things than earlier in the season – and much of it can be thanks to the infectious nature of season-wide strong performances such as that of Gonzalez.

Photo: Jesse Piecuch/DTTWLN photographer