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Erik Gonzalez Off to a Strong Start for Columbus

Erik Gonzalez Off to a Strong Start for Columbus

| On 22, Apr 2016

His path to the Major League Baseball stage may be a bit hazy, but Indians shortstop prospect Erik Gonzalez’s efforts on the diamond continue to prove his worth. A solid week at the plate for the 24-year-old, a member of the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, reaffirmed his top prospect status.

Number 12 in the Indians farm system, according to MLB Pipeline’s 2016 Prospect Watch, Gonzalez is blocked by superstar Francisco Lindor on the Cleveland roster, making his role in the future with the Indians a bit of a mystery. A team can never have enough depth and for now, that is exactly what Gonzalez is providing the parent club.

Batting second again on Thursday night, Gonzalez had a pair of singles and a run batted in in the Clippers’ 2-0 six-hit shutout over the Toledo Mud Hens. The multi-hit game was his fifth in 12 games this season. He has been held hitless just three times this year.

He entered play on Thursday in the top 25 in the International League in season batting average at .317. That number jumped to .333 with his two-hit effort and he will have undoubtedly climbed that leader board by the end of the Triple-A action on Thursday night.

Gonzalez has been a singles machine, as 13 of his 15 hits on the season have been base hits. He has added a pair of doubles and driven in six runs on the season.

The offensive side of the game had been the weaker part of his play on the diamond, so the strong start from the Clippers shortstop and a member of the Indians’ 40-man roster is encouraging. What he has not done much of this season, however, is walk, with just one free pass to his credit in those first dozen games played.

Gonzalez has had the unenviable task of replacing Lindor as the Indians shortstop was making his own progression through the team’s farm system over the last several years. He has gotten all but one inning of work at short this season and in his stops at Double-A Akron and Columbus last year, he only took the field at short.

Eamon Queeney/The Columbus Dispatch

Eamon Queeney/The Columbus Dispatch

Throughout his career developing in Cleveland’s minor league system, Gonzalez has worked all over the field. When he first began working with the Indians organization as a 17-year-old in the Dominican Summer League, he saw more work at second base, with a little time at short. The following season, he played all four infield positions and both corner outfield spots as the Indians looked for a home for him. He worked as a corner infielder in the Arizona League in 2011 and with Mahoning Valley in 2012 (in addition to right field that season), but his results at the hot corner always included more errors than a team would be comfortable with.

After splitting time while in Lake County in 2013 at second, third, short, and an inning in center, he has remained a shortstop since moving up to High-A Carolina that season.

During the spring, he appeared in a game at second base for the Indians, but at the time, manager Terry Francona indicated it was solely to get him game action with Lindor blocking his path, even in spring exhibitions.

“I just didn’t want him to sit here and not play,” shared Francona at the time. “He has the ability to play all over the place. He could probably play center field and first base, too. But we told him he’s a shortstop.”

His work in the batter’s box was the area that the Indians wanted to see the most progression and better consistency. Last season, he hit .255 between Akron and Columbus, including just .223 while with the Clippers. He had hit .309 the previous year with Akron and Carolina, but just .254 in 2013 while with Carolina and Lake County.

He is a lifetime .271 hitter on the farm.

“He’s got some movement in his swing with his leg kick and timing mechanics,” said Francona. “Getting that on time is one of his big challenges. When he learns to do that consistently, he could be one of those guys who just takes off.

“You might not see the killer numbers at Class A or Class AA, but when he grows into his body, there’s no limit to what he can do.”

Gonzalez also brings with him speed that shows on both the offensive and defensive sides of his game. He stole 18 bases last season and 21 the year before and owns a 76% success rate in picking off bases through his minor league career. He has also hit as many as 32 doubles and 12 triples in a season, likely aided by his swiftness.

While his future with the club is very much an unknown, the Indians will continue to groom him as an intriguing insurance policy at shortstop for the worst case scenario, Gonzalez will work to further develop a consistent approach at the plate. If he does not contribute directly to the Indians in the near future, he could still impact the roster via trade, as he has been a name other teams inquired about over the winter and could continue to garner such an interest with more progress on the field.

Photo: Barbara J. Perenic/The Columbus Dispatch

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