Cleveland Indians 2016 Top Prospects: #15 Erik Gonzalez

Cleveland Indians 2016 Top Prospects: #15 Erik Gonzalez

The extremely versatile and talented infielder Erik Gonzalez comes in at Number 15 on our 2016 Cleveland Indians Top Prospect countdown.

Who is Erik Gonzalez?

Gonzalez joined the Cleveland Indians as an amateur free agent in 2008, signing out of the Dominican Republic. He spent several years in the Tribe’s rookie levels (both Dominican and Arizona) and didn’t see full-season ball until 2013.  A natural middle infielder, Gonzalez has seen time at every position but pitcher and catcher. The 24-year-old right-handed hitter stands 6’3” and weighs about 195 pounds. He split 2015 between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus.  He was added to the Tribe’s 40-man roster prior to the 2013 season. 

Strengths and Weaknesses

Gonzalez took a while to get going as a prospect, spending four seasons at the rookie and short-season levels. He was a nomad in the field during those years as well, playing 74 games at second base, 72 at third base, 46 at first base, 21 at shortstop, 13 in left field, and 13 in right field.  In 2013 at Lake County (Class-A) and Carolina (Advanced-A) it was much of the same for him as he played 65 games at third base, 55 at shortstop (his first action there since 2010), 13 at second base, and one in center field.  Needless to say, Gonzalez is a plus athlete with good speed, which has helped him handle all these positions.

Finally, though for Gonzalez, he was able to start settling into one home on the diamond. With Lindor moving up, Gonzalez was able to slot in at shortstop and his game really took off. He was added to the 40-man roster after the 2013 season, to the surprise of some, thanks in large part to his versatility but also due to his defense value at shortstop.  Despite hardly playing there early in his career, Gonzalez has developed into a top-notch defender shortstop, even leading some to call him better than Lindor at the position.  While I definitely wouldn’t go that far, he has been very impressive there and was recently tabbed as the best defensive infielder and with having the best infield arm by Baseball America.

Offensively Gonzalez has shown some potential. He’s shown glimpses of some power, hitting nine home runs in 2013 and 2015. He also has 76 doubles and 29 triples over the past three seasons. His speed is also starting to show up more in his game having stolen 39 bases the last two seasons (not to mention all the triples that his speed has helped with). After mashing his way through Double-A, he ran into some issues in his first stint at Triple-A in 2015, hitting just .223 with a .588 OPS (on-base plus slugging).

His offensive game definitely has some holes. He doesn’t walk much (career 5.4% walk rate) and his 17.3% career strikeout rate, while decent, isn’t all that great either. He does get a lot of hits though and he’ll need to maintain that to keep his value up.

The Indians though still feel there’s potential and that “the sky is the limit” with him.  He’s definitely got the size and frame to add some more power, but until he starts to hit more, he’s a prospect that is outside my top ten…

Where Does He Go From Here?

As mentioned earlier, Gonzalez was added to the Tribe’s 40-man roster after the 2013 season, which means he’s already used two of his three minor league options. After getting a taste of Triple-A in 2015, he’ll return there in 2016 as the Clippers starting shortstop.  He’ll be burning that final minor league option though so it’s a huge year for Gonzalez to prove he’s a big leaguer.

He’s definitely got big league tools and could probably start at shortstop right now for some teams; however, the Indians have some kid named Francisco Lindor at that position for the foreseeable future which complicates things with Gonzalez. I expect the Tribe to use Gonzalez at some positions other than shortstop as well at Columbus. While they maintain that he “is a shortstop,” they also know that Lindor is there so it would appear that Gonzalez’s only real path to Cleveland at the moment is as a utility player.

Francona has said that he feels he can play centerfield and first base in addition to shortstop, second base, and third base. It wouldn’t surprise me if he’s playing all over the diamond at Columbus.  I also fully expect to see Gonzalez in Cleveland at some point in 2016. The Tribe will want to see how he handles himself in the big leagues before being faced with the prospect of him being out of options heading into the 2017 season. Gonzalez does seem to have the floor of a utility player. Maybe a John McDonald type infielder. The question is, can his bat improve enough for him to start every day?  That remains to be seen but I don’t see why he isn’t capable of being an Alcides Escobar type starting shortstop either…