To be perfectly honest, I didn’t know much about Erik Gonzalez. I knew he was a shortstop in the Cleveland Indians system that was surpassed to the bigs by Francisco Lindor. I knew that he was the starting shortstop for the International League All Stars when I headed to Charlotte Wednesday night.
When I left Charlotte, I left more impressed with Gonzalez than arguably any other prospect I had seen. Sure, Travis Taijeron hit a bomb, but that’s what he does. Chris Marrero went yard to seal the deal for the IL, but he had won the Home Run Derby earlier in the week. Gonzalez? He was just everywhere, and after the game we were all talking about his big play in the ninth and how impressed we were.
Apparently the Indians agreed. Gonzalez is heading to The Show to begin the second half of the season as a Major Leaguer for the first time in his eight year career.
Gonzalez was arguably the most active player in Wednesday evening's IL victory over the PCL All Stars. He threw out two batters in the first, one in the second, one more in the third, he snagged a pop up in the fourth, and by the fifth he threw out a hitter AND caught a pop up. Gonzalez made a spectacular glove flip double-play in the ninth to end the PCL’s threat and lock up the game.
Did I mention he began the IL’s comeback offensively? The Las Vegas 51’s Taijeron went yard in the top of the second driving in two, but Gonzalez answered back quickly in the bottom of the second, adding a solo shot to left field of his own, cutting the PCL lead to one.
So who is Gonzalez?
The right-hander was signed by the Indians out of the Dominican and debuted back in 2009. He spent three years at Rookie level, first in the DSL and then Arizona League before making it to A-ball for the 2013 season. At that point, Gonzalez -- who has the build to play everywhere, standing at 6-foot-3 and 195 pounds -- was a super utility player, having played every position except for catcher and pitcher.
He then became an everyday shortstop and actually displayed good range and an above-average, strong arm. His bat came alive in 2014. He became an All Star at High-A for the Carolina Mudcats and did even better once promoted to Double-A Akron. He slashed .309/.352/.428 with 20 doubles, 10 triples, four home runs and 21 stolen bases in 28 attempts across both levels.
He would make his Triple-A debut in 2015 and he struggled mightily. He hit just .223 but really struggled at the plate striking out 47 times and walking 15 in 261 plate appearances, an 18-percent to 5.7-percent difference.
Gonzalez has turned it around this year, hitting .296 with 22 doubles and six home runs. He still has an alarmingly high strikeout-to-walk ratio, sitting at 63:15 in 360 plate appearances, but he was also posting the one of the best wRC+ of his career at 113, all culminating in that stellar All Star Game appearance.
Gonzalez -- now 24 years old -- will prove valuable to the first place Indians. Though he won’t supplant Jason Kipnis nor Lindor anytime soon, he has experience at both positions to lighten the load down the playoff stretch. He has outfield experience and can even give Juan Uribe a breather at third. Terry Francona has gotten the most out of this squad as their once third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall is in right and there one-time infielder Jose Ramirez plays left. Don’t be surprised to see Gonzalez get his chances. They just may come anywhere on the field he can get.