The IBI Preview Capsules are back for 2017 as Jake Dungan takes an in-depth look at all the players who could impact the Tribe in the upcoming season from the established stars to the prospects on the verge of being called up to the majors to the non-roster invites to spring training.
Erik Gonzalez, INF
Throws: Right -- Bats: Right -- Entering his age-25 season -- Contract: Pre-Arbitration (Eligible for Arbitration in 2020)
2016 In Review: While Erik Gonzalez was signed as an amateur free agent three years before the Indians drafted Francisco Lindor, he's been living in the shadow of the All-Star shortstop throughout his development. There was little doubt that Lindor was going to be the shortstop of the future for the Indians, but Gonzalez has still been an intriguing prospect in his own right showing impressive numbers at just about every level. His primary position is shortstop, but he has also seen time all around the horn as well as in the outfield, making him an ideal utility player candidate. Gonzalez has already shown promise in limited playing time in Cleveland batting .313 (5-for-16) spread out over 21 games. The question at this point is can his offense continue to translate to the big league level?
Versus Right-handers: Oddly enough, Gonzalez has had more success against right-handed pitching in his career despite batting from the right side. In two of his last three seasons as a minor leaguer, the 25-year-old has batted over .300 against right-handers. In, albeit very limited big league playing time, that trend has continued as he batted .364 against right-handed pitching with the Tribe. Overall in 2016 between Cleveland and Columbus (138 games), Gonzalez racked up a .311 average against right-handed pitching.
Versus Left-handers: Historically, Gonzalez has had more success against right-handed pitching, but there have been outlier seasons in his career where he's been able to do damage against southpaws as well. As recently as 2015, the Dominican infielder has actually thrived more against lefties than righties batting .320 and .240, respectively. As a right-handed hitter, one would expect that to be the rule rather than the exception and it'll be interesting to see if his full transition to the big leagues involves a shift to the more traditional splits for a hitter swinging from the right side.
Defense: Gonzalez has a larger, athletic build, which could work both for and against him on defense, particularly on the infield. In his minor league career, he has shown ability to handle various positions playing everywhere on the field except for left field, pitcher and catcher, but he also has a fair amount of errors to his credit. Still, scouting reports have always given him strong marks for his range and arm strength, particularly at his home position of shortstop. In the majors, advanced stats have Gonzalez right around average at every position he's played so far (shortstop, second base, third base and right field) with minimal variance above or below zero in DRS and UZR. One potential development worth watching for in the coming season will be how many reps he gets in the outfield either in Cleveland or Columbus since those strongpoints of his defense could play well out there.
Fantasy Impact: Truth be told, if Gonzalez does earn a job with the big league squad, it will be coming off the bench as the team's super utility player and will likely only see playing time late in blowout games, when someone is injured or when a key player is getting a day off. So the only way he can really move the needle from a fantasy standpoint is if he has a breakout season similar to that of Jose Ramirez last year. Obviously that may be a lot to ask, but batting at or close to .300 will certainly help. Even then, however, unless he takes very well to an outfield spot, there is no opening for an everyday position on a healthy Tribe roster.
Summary: Heading into spring training, Erik Gonzalez will have a legitimate shot at making the team as a utility player since he already has major league time under his belt in that capacity. However, he will have to contend with the veteran utility man Michael Martinez, who will be returning to camp on a minor league deal this year after two stints with the Indians in 2016. Being a younger player with higher upside, Gonzalez should have the upper hand, but Martinez has also found favor with manager Terry Francona for what he's done both on and off the field. As far as what fans can expect from the Dominican native if he does make the team, watch for him all over the diamond on defense and see how pitchers adjust to him at the plate. While he can bat around .300 with a bit of power and make an impact with his speed, his low walk rate could be a factor and potential stumbling block at some point. In short, as a utility player Gonzalez is a guy you hope doesn't see much playing time, but if he does at least he has reasonable upside to still make an impact.
Check out our other 2017 Preview Capsules here: