When the 40-man roster crunch came to fruition at the end of 2021, Oscar Gonzalez was one of the players left out in cold. With the MLB portion of the Rule 5 Draft looming and the young outfielder coming off of a strong season between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus, he was likely gone when other organizations got a chance to select him.
As it would stand, Gonzalez would end up staying with the Guardians due to the cancellation of the Rule 5 Draft, leaving the door open to him playing a role with Cleveland in 2022.
Climbing the Organizational Ladder
Gonzalez joined Cleveland as an international signee in the 2014 class. He was not someone who broke the headlines, but he’s put together a solid minor-league career in the Guardians’ system. From the Dominican Summer League in 2015 through Double-A Akron in 2019, Gonzalez had steadily ascended through the organization while logging decent numbers at most of his stops. He would be left idle in 2020, though, due to the cancellation of the MiLB season because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Entering 2021, there wasn’t a ton of hype around Gonzalez as a potential ascending talent. He lacked the name recognition of some of Cleveland’s higher-ranked prospects, and started at Akron before making it to Triple-A Columbus later in the year.
On the season, Gonzalez slashed .293/.329/.871. He also mashed 31 homers (13 in Akron and 18 in Columbus), while driving in 83 runs across the campaign. Gonzalez only walked 22 times in 478 at-bats and struck out 112 times. As he put together a solid season in the minors, more attention was paid to his viability as an outfield option for the Guardians.
Possibilities for Oscar Gonzalez in 2022
At 6’4″ and 240 pounds, Gonzalez could bring some much-needed thump to Cleveland’s lineup in 2022. Based on the current makeup of Cleveland’s outfield, it’s not out of the question for a youngster without any major-league experience to seize on the opportunity to grab a spot on the Opening Day roster if they have a successful spring training campaign.
As far as offense goes, Gonzalez has the ability to tattoo baseballs. At the same time, he has been successful across multiple levels at hitting for average, adding some depth to his offensive game. Looking at lineup projections for Opening Day, Cleveland needs more bats that can keep pitchers honest and provide lineup protection for some of the established hitters. Looking after the first four batters (Myles Straw, Amed Rosario, José Ramírez, and Franmil Reyes), there are plenty of places for a solid bat to give a lift to the lineup.
Straw is penciled in as the Opening Day starter in center field, but right and left field are still wide open for the taking. Bradley Zimmer and Oscar Mercado are out of options, and Steven Kwan could be a potential option for the Guardians should they opt for youth over experience. Richie Palacios is getting reps in the outfield this spring, making him a possibility as well. Where Gonzalez has a potential edge over the other options (both vets and prospects) is the versatility of his bat. He is not as refined in his defensive game, but the ability to hit for average and utilize the long ball could be a differentiating factor for the 24-year-old.
Although spring training is ongoing, and there are more experienced options for the Opening Day roster that lack the flexibility of minor-league options, Gonzalez should not be ignored as a potential fit for the Guardians. He’s off to a hot start in his first few at-bats of 2022, and has drawn positive attention to himself at the plate. If he continues to play well in his opportunities over the next couple of weeks, Francona and the front office would be wise to consider the upside he could bring to Cleveland, and should keep him on the shortlist for one of the corner outfield spots moving forward.