Gonzalez Has Big Shoes to Fill at Akron
Danny Madden | On 29, Jul 2014
With some big shoes to fill, Erik Gonzalez is up for the challenge of replacing top prospect Francisco Lindor at Double-A Akron. Lindor was promoted to Triple-A Columbus on July 21, and Gonzalez was in Akron the next day. After spending most of the first part of the season in High-A Carolina, Gonzalez is going to slide right into the lineup and be the everyday shortstop in Akron.
“I’m really excited and really grateful to be up here,” Gonzalez said.
At 22 years old, Gonzalez has already established himself as one of the top shortstop prospects in the Indians minor league system. So far on the year in High-A Carolina, he slashed .289/.336/.409 with 14 doubles, 7 triples, 3 home runs, 46 RBI, and 15 stolen bases. Gonzalez makes a living off of his speed and being able to hit line drives. He developed some power during his time in Low-A Lake County as he hit 9 home runs during his time there. Manager Dave Wallace believes that Gonzalez could continue to develop that power.
“You look at the kids frame and his swing and the power’s there. He’s more line drives, but the home runs that I have seen him hit and have just been out like that,” Wallace said. “His big growth was two years ago. He was a long, skinny, lanky kid that just kind of hadn’t grown into his body yet. Last year he really did and started to really open up some eyes and do some special things out on the field. Range, arm strength, all of that, just how under control he was. We feel like his offense will catch up to his defense and when it does, you’ve got a pretty special player.”
What stands out the most about Gonzalez is his confidence at playing shortstop. His defense is top notch, and he looks comfortable fielding the position.
“There’s a lot of guys that feel his defense is right there with Francisco’s. It’s that good,” Wallace said. “From what I’ve seen, I’d give Francisco a slight edge right now all-around but defensively, Erik’s right there with him.”
Gonzalez is a big, lanky kid who can cover a lot of ground at short stop. His build and intelligence in the field is what sets him apart from other defenders at the position. Between 2012-2013, in his time in Low-A Lake County and High-A Carolina, he was tossed around the diamond playing third, first, and second base and right field. As a result, his offense showed a vast decrease in every peripheral aspect. This season, he has spent every game at either short stop or designated hitter. Staying in one position has helped lock Gonzalez in at the plate.
“I feel comfortable at shortstop,” Gonzalez said. “When I played in little league I played at shortstop, and that was my favorite position.”
Gonzalez believes that staying at just the one position has helped him stay focused on the game. He likes to drive the ball to the opposite field and keep a keen eye on the pitcher. By not moving around the diamond and always knowing where he is going to play every day, he is able to settle down at the plate and just perform.
Along with a solid defense, Gonzalez brings great speed and uses it as a weapon when he gets on base. In Carolina this year, he already had 15 stolen bases before being called up. Between 2009 and 2013, Gonzalez has averaged about 9 stolen bases a season.
“I try to do that in the game in every game. I think that’s my job,” Gonzalez said.
This is not the first time that Gonzalez has made a trip up to Akron this season. After Lindor, Joe Wendle, and Tyler Naquin all went down with their injuries in three consecutive days, Gonzalez was called up to fill in at short stop until Lindor came back. During his time here, he impressed early after he hit his first Double-A home run and hit close to the .300 mark. He was able to evaluate how he’ll need to adjust to pitchers on this new level.
“The pitches are different. They throw a lot of sliders, screwball, and change up for strikes. Different than High-A. A lot of pitchers throw changeups and sliders in the dirt, but up here every pitch is a strike,” Gonzalez said.
Making the adjustment to these types of pitches is going to be a challenging task for Gonzalez as he’s been a pretty free swinger his entire career thus far. This is something that Wallace would like to see Gonzalez improve on during his time in Akron.
“I’m going to look at plate discipline. The pitches he’s going to swing at and the pitches he lays off,” Wallace said. “They’re going to have some reports on him up here probably, his tendency is to be a little overaggressive at time. He’ll sometimes, if he sees something in, he’ll want to turn on it. We don’t want to take his aggressiveness away, we love that about him, but we want to harness it.”
If he can bring a more calm approach the plate, and be able to sit back on those off-speed pitches then Gonzalez will be an even bigger threat at the plate.
The role that is to be filled by Gonzalez is no easy task. He’s become an instant presence on the field and at the plate. Bring a strong, consistent bat and an even better glove on the infield, Gonzalez could be looking to have a very positive and successful second half of the season with the RubberDucks. By making adjustments at the plate, and learning from the players who have been on the team all season long, Gonzalez will continue to grow right in front of our eyes.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN photographer