Guardians prospects: Oscar Gonzalez could be forcing his way to Cleveland
The young outfielder is mashing in Columbus and could soon be knocking down the door to Cleveland.
Oscar Gonzalez has walked a strange path since the end of the 2021 season. After being left off of the 40-man roster last November leading up to the Rule 5 Draft, it seemed likely he would be claimed by another club who could afford to stash a raw bat with plus power.
Due to the MLB lockout and the cancellation of the Rule 5 Draft, Gonzalez was able to stay in Cleveland’s organization. He opened the year with the Triple-A affiliate Columbus Clippers, and may be paving his way to the Guardians’ active roster at some point in the 2022 season.
The word out of Columbus
On the season, Gonzalez has swatted seven home runs while slashing .320/.340/.602 in 103 at-bats. His numbers have been good for an OPS of .942. It seems like every time the top performers are highlighted from the Clippers roster, the young outfielder’s name is mentioned.
The home runs aren’t all that surprising after his 2021 power surge, but the elevated average from .293 a year ago could help Gonzalez make the case that he’s ready to take on the bright lights in Cleveland. He’s also significantly reduced his strikeout rate, whiffing only 14 times thus far compared to 112 K’s in 478 at-bats a year ago, good for a 9% decrease.
Where Gonzalez has struggled is when looking at his splits between righties and lefties. He’s crushed right-handed pitching, but has been dominated by lefties thus far on the season. He’s slashed .359/.383/.692 off right-handed pitching, and only .200/.200/.320 against southpaws.
How Oscar Gonzalez potentially fits into the Guardians’ roster
Over the last couple of seasons, the Guardians have notably lacked consistent play in the outfield. Although there have been bright spots here and there, Cleveland has seen a constant shuffling in the search for the formula that works on both the offensive and defensive sides of the game.
If the Guardians could slot in Gonzalez as even a fourth outfielder, he could potentially provide the team with another bomber in the lineup, especially against right-handed pitching. With defensive maestros such as Myles Straw, Oscar Mercado and Steven Kwan already in Cleveland’s outfield, adding in Gonzalez could provide power that most other outfield options can’t match, even if his fielding prowess is not necessarily a strength. Adding his power bat to a collection of mostly contact-oriented hitters amongst the Guardian outfield could help to provide crucial depth to the lineup.
Why the Guardians roster presents obstacles for Gonzalez’s promotion
Cleveland’s active roster is currently full, and just underwent a crunch that saw Bobby Bradley and Logan Allen designated for assignment by the Guardians. With Straw, Kwan, and Mercado, as well as Richie Palacios, Josh Naylor and Franmil Reyes as potential options in the outfield, Gonzalez’s path to Cleveland becomes a bit murky.
Straw and Kwan have established themselves as core components of the outfield, and Palacios has had his moments since being promoted by the Guardians. Reyes has played some in the outfield but primarily fills the DH role, with Naylor playing some right field while also spending time at first. Mercado has also seen hot streaks at the plate through the first month, helping to secure his place on the roster in the short term.
With the current roster configuration and a couple of guys playing well (Straw, Kwan, and Naylor specifically), projecting how Gonzalez fits into the mix for the Guardians gets difficult. He could profile as a DH due to his size and power, but that slot is still blocked by Reyes as things currently stand. Without an injury or move necessitated by prolonged poor play, there are some legitimate obstacles to Gonzalez joining the active roster, regardless of how well he is playing.
What should the Cleveland Guardians do?
If he continues to rake at the plate, it is worth finding a way to give Gonzalez the cup of coffee that many hoped he would have by now. With the youth movement currently taking place in Cleveland, he would have plenty of former Akron and Columbus teammates around him, as well as savvy veterans who could provide guidance on how to handle life in the majors.
In the case of injury or prolonged slump involving one of the outfielders or Reyes at DH, Gonzalez could slot in and provide instant offense if the upward transition is relatively smooth (which is not guaranteed regardless of how hot the 24-year-old has been in Columbus). Even with a less-than-elite defensive skillset in the outfield, the offensive potential could easily mitigate the risk.
If he continues showcasing big-time power and hitting with consistency for the Clippers, Gonzalez should finally get his shot with Cleveland, potentially becoming a crucial bat for the Guardians down the stretch in 2022.