On Lindor’s Heels, Erik Gonzalez Looks for a Hole to Fill

It might be a sin to talk about a shortstop other than Francisco Lindor right now – the youngster, who was in the running for Rookie of the Year last season, was all Indians fans could talk about for what seemed like years as they wondered when he would be ready, when the organization would push him up to the big leagues, and when he could replace the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera or another fill-in shortstop. Now, Lindor has made his mark on the team and is well on his way to becoming one of the most liked players on the team in years. His career is, quite literally, just beginning, which makes speculation about any other shortstop almost a moot point.

That shouldn’t prevent us from talking about Erik Gonzalez, however.

Gonzalez is a 24-year-old infielder from the Dominican Republic who has spent most of his time in recent seasons playing shortstop for some level of the Indians organization. He’s tall and slim – six-foot-three and 195 pounds, which makes him quick as he moves around the field. His speed makes him valuable on the bases as well, as he stole 18 bases last season and 21 bases during the 2014 season. Gonzalez is certainly a player to watch, but the big question seems to be where exactly he fits into the grand scheme of the organization.

He’s been a strong bat in seasons past, with 2014 being one of his most successful seasons at the plate. Gonzalez hit a combined .309 between Carolina and Akron. He hit .255 last season, with a .280 average in Double-A and .223 in his 65 games in Triple-A.

Gonzalez spent his time last season between Akron and Columbus, as he has been following at Lindor’s heels throughout the last few years. As Lindor receives a promotion, Gonzalez typically moves up to fill the space that Lindor left empty.

“Francisco has been such a good player and been a level ahead of him the last couple of years,” said Akron manager Dave Wallace at the beginning of the 2015 season. “But Erik has never shown that it has affected the way he has gone about his business, or the way he has played the game at all. That is one of the things we love about him. He is focused and determined to be the best shortstop and best baseball player he can be, regardless of what is going on around him, and that is very encouraging.”

Prior to focusing his play on short, Gonzalez spent a good portion of time at third base, but has had experience at every position except pitcher and catcher. His versatility is certainly an asset, as spending time consistently at shortstop in the big leagues is more than likely out of the question. The Indians don’t need as much infield as they do outfield help right now, though Gonzalez has spent only marginal time there. However, if things need to be moved around throughout the season based on team needs, Gonzalez could conceivably find himself in any number of fielder roles at the big league level.

During this year’s Spring Training, Gonzalez has played in seven games and seen 13 at-bats. He’s hitting .231 with three hits and one RBI. It likely won’t be enough for him to start the season in the bigs, but a Gonzalez promotion is undoubtedly near, though the exact mechanics of how it would happen are murky at best. It’s probable he will start the season in Columbus’s infield, but could very well see a bit of major league playing time if the cards fall correctly for him this season. If there is a hole to found, hopefully Gonzalez can be the one to fill it.

Photo: Eamon Queeney/The Columbus Dispatch

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