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Slim Size Does Not Mean Slim Possibilities for Erik Gonzalez

Slim Size Does Not Mean Slim Possibilities for Erik Gonzalez

| On 11, Feb 2014

The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ young players who likely won’t make the roster but could impact the Tribe’s season before it ends.

In an off-season that found the Indians signing and acquiring a large number of outfielders and veteran players, a young infielder within the Indians organization was added to the team’s 40-man roster without much pomp and circumstance. Despite his age and unimposing stature, 22-year-old third baseman and shortstop Erik Gonzalez has been deemed by the organization as a player with the potential to make a difference in the upcoming season.

Gonzalez’s addition to the 40-man roster came after a strong showing during his 2013 season, which was split between Low-A Lake County and High-A Carolina. At 6’1” and 165 pounds, Gonzalez does not at first appear to be an imposing player. Although baseball is a sport that values skill over size, there is still a notion that a player must be muscly, broad, and built in order to excel on the field. However, Gonzalez’s slimness is no determinant for his ability as a player. The size of strong, promising players such as Gonzalez and Yhoxian Medina, however, does something to dispel the myth that size matters.

Gonzalez started last season with the Low-A Lake County Captains during his first full professional season, where he proved that he deserved his spot on the roster and could handle the pressures and grueling pace that came with full-season baseball. He hit a .259 average during his 93 games with the Captains, with 92 hits, 23 doubles, seven triples, and nine home runs. He knocked in 49 runs and was walked 24 times. He stole 10 bases.

In July, Gonzalez was recognized as the Indians organization’s Minor League Player of the Week. In the week in which he received the award (July 1-7), Gonzalez went 11-29 while at bat, which was a .379 AVG. He had seven hits, two of which were home runs, one triple, and 10 RBI. Gonzalez was the first Captain of the season to receive the award.

After his recognition, Gonzalez went on a 10-game hitting streak through July 13. He was promoted to Carolina in late July, where he hit .242 in 39 games. He had 37 hits, nine doubles, and five triples, hitting in 27 RBI. Overall, Gonzalez hit .254 during the 2013 season, with 129 hits, nine home runs, 11 stolen bases, and 109 strike outs. He triple slashed an overall .293/.417/.710.

During his hot streak with the Captains, hitting coach Tony Mansolino talked about the overall better at-bats he had been seeing from the team throughout the season.

“Scooter [Tucker, Captains manager] 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…It gets you more comfortable as a hitter in your following at-bats; you’ve seen what he [the opposing pitcher] has.”

Tucker echoed the idea of comfort in a hitter, a notion that Gonzalez seemed to embody in getting comfortable with his status as a professional baseball player.

“It helps guys once they get comfortable with a place in the lineup…As guys get comfortable in a place, it helps.”

Whether it’s getting comfortable in his hitting spot or in his status as a ballplayer, Gonzalez can certainly demonstrate that he is comfortable in his power and skill.

So what can Gonzalez bring to the organization this year?

With a slim chance of making the roster – Gonzalez is still young and hasn’t appeared above High-A, making it unlikely that an MLB debut is in the immediate future – Gonzalez is still posed to make an impact on the offensive front. He hit .325 in 45 games as part of the Dominican Winter League during the off-season, with 53 hits, six doubles, six triples, and one home run. He stole three bases and posted a .795 OPS. It’s likely Gonzalez could return to Carolina to start the season as the Mudcats’ shortstop. The Indians organization seems dedicated to giving him a chance to play shortstop after his break out season.

Gonzalez’s speed and size helps him on the base path, as is evidenced by his high number of stolen bases. With high numbers of extra-base hits, as well as a strong ability to get timely hits with runners in scoring position, Gonzalez is poised to be a difference-maker in years to come. With the Indians in need of clutch hitters and players who have an ability to get on base, he can undoubtedly make a difference in the coming seasons. The role of third baseman is also an often-discussed role within the Indians season, and to have a promising player like Gonzalez on the horizon can only spell out good things for the future of the Indians’ infield. Gonzalez had nine errors at shortstop while in Carolina and 14 at third base with Lake County, which are not that unsettling of numbers when looking at the high number of errors other players on the team had for the season. Gonzalez has a lifetime fielding percentage of .906.

His age and size are by no means deterrents of the potential in a player such as Gonzalez. He is likely to make an impact on the organization, and is evidently coming into his own as a player. He is someone to keep an eye on throughout spring training and the coming season, as his name will likely be one that is heard. It may not be today or tomorrow, but if his recent performances are any indication, it is only a matter of time.

Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer