Jason Kipnis has a lockdown on the Indians second base job for the foreseeable future. Third base seems to be Lonnie Chisenhall’s. Shortstop currently belongs to youngster Jose Ramirez while super-prospect Francisco Lindor breathes down his neck. First base is already a log jam of veterans with Carlos Santana, Nick Swisher and Brandon Moss all capable of playing there.
Such is the predicament for the group of young infielders waiting in the wing…waiting for their opportunity. Among the group of patient youngsters is Erik Gonzalez, perhaps the brightest looking prospect that few outside of the Akron area have heard of.
Although he is just 23, Gonzalez has been playing in the Indians organization since 2009 when he was just 17 years old. A versatile athlete, Gonzalez has played seven different positions since joining the Tribe; logging time everywhere except for pitcher and catcher. Primarily an infielder, Gonzalez has seen the majority of his time on the left side of the diamond recently by playing in 65 of 97 games at third base in 2013 and then 104 of 104 contests at shortstop in 2014. It was in 2014 that Gonzalez’s star really started to shine.
After starting the season at High-A Carolina, Gonzalez was promoted to AA Akron when Lindor was called up to AAA Columbus in July. The slick-fielding Gonzalez was playing at an All-Star level for the Mudcats at the time of his promotion—a .289 batting average with three homeruns, 46 RBI and 15 stolen bases—but really took off when he was asked to replace the irreplaceable Lindor for the Rubberducks.
Gonzalez clobbered Eastern League pitchers for 31 games last season, batting a sparkly .357 with a homerun, six doubles and three triples while driving in 16 runs. He continued to swipe bases as well, successfully stealing six of seven during his time at AA. For the summer, Gonzalez was a combined 21 of 28 in stolen base opportunities between Carolina and Akron. His outstanding offensive production in 2014 has shot Gonzalez up the ranks of the Indians top-prospect lists.
In addition to his somewhat surprising offensive production, Gonzalez continued to dazzle with his excellent defense.
“There’s a lot of guys that feel his defense is right there with Francisco’s. It’s that good,” Akron Manager Dave Wallace said to DTTWLN in July. “From what I’ve seen, I’d give Francisco a slight edge right now all-around but defensively, Erik’s right there with him.”
For the time being, Gonzalez remains lodged firmly behind both Lindor and Ramirez as he patiently waits his turn for a Major League opportunity. Gonzalez will likely begin the season as the Rubberducks starting shortstop again in 2015, but would be likely be next in line whenever another promotion occurs.
Photo: Lianna Holub/DTTWLN