12. Erik Gonzalez – Shortstop
Born: 08/31/1991 – Height: 6’3” – Weight: 195 – Bats: Right – Throws: Right
Facts & Info: Gonzalez was signed by the Indians as an undrafted free agent in August 2008 out of the Dominican Republic. Last season, he finished 9th in the International League in runs scored (62), 13th in hits (127), 7th in doubles (31), 9th in batting average (.296) and 10th in slugging percentage (.450) – and also finished 7th in the organization in batting average.
Offense: Gonzalez is an interesting middle infield prospect who combines a unique body that is long and tall with lots of athleticism and a deep assortment of tools. He has some long limbs with a wiry frame, but surprises with the amount of strength he has as he shows some pop in his bat that flashes solid average power. The Indians have really worked with him to be more consistent with his swing mechanics and use a leg kick to create better timing and believe that as he refines that he will impact the baseball on a more consistent basis. He has an overly aggressive approach and is a free swinger, so the bat is limited to where he only projects to have an average at best hit tool at the Major League level, but when he does make contact he shows an innate ability to square up the baseball and drive the ball well to all fields. He’s worked a lot to refine his approach and to make some adjustments with it to see the ball better and show more discipline. He limits strikeouts, but he does not walk much and is susceptible to chase. In order to develop his pitch recognition skills and allow him to see the ball better the Indians have worked with him to adopt a middle of the field approach and he has seen some incremental improvement with his discipline and bat-to-ball as a result. He shows a clutch factor with an ability to really focus when runners are on base and come through with a hit or effectively move baserunners.
Defense: Defense is where Gonzalez really shines as he has turned himself into an above average Major League option at shortstop. He has a deep assortment of defensive skills for the shortstop position as he is sure-handed, shows very good lateral range to his left and right, displays some very good actions with his feet and hands, has some good first step quickness and shows off a very strong, accurate arm that is able to handle any throw. He is so athletic, under control and coordinated that he is able to really get some good height on jumps for liners and can really move well around the bag with his pivot and with his tags. He also has the versatility to handle just about any position on the diamond except catcher and has the experience at nearly all of them as in addition to shortstop (411 games), he has logged time at third base (142 games), second base (100 games), first base (47 games) and the outfield (32 games) in his career.
Speed & Intangibles: Gonzalez has solid average speed and shows the ability to steal a base and also take the extra base on balls in play. His speed plays up some because of his athleticism and intelligence, but also because he does a good job of reading the ball off the bat and gets good jumps on pitchers by reading them well. He has some leadership qualities to him and really takes charge on the field and in the dugout, and is considered a very good teammate. He is very focused in his work as he shows a strong desire to work hard to continue to improve, never lets up in his work and is very coachable.
Focus: The main concern with Gonzalez continues to be his lack of patience and discipline at the plate and is the one thing which has limited his Major League opportunities to date. While his strikeout rate is usually under 20% and more than acceptable, it is his over-aggressiveness where he expands the zone for weak contact which he has to learn to get a handle on in order to have any consistent success when he gets to the big leagues. The lack of patience and discipline is something that could really be exposed at the big league level, so the Indians have worked with him to get better at staying in the strike zone, identifying breaking balls better and trusting his swing to use a whole field approach and drive the ball the other way with consistency. While he has done a better job of that over the past few seasons, he still has a ways to go. If he can lock in on an approach that allows him to be a little more selective and under control with his at bats, it is the last ingredient he needs to have a chance to not only get to the big leagues but stay there.
Future: Gonzalez is a sleeper prospect in the system who has been overlooked because of what the Indians already have in the infield in Cleveland. With phenom Francisco Lindor at shortstop, All Star Jason Kipnis at second base and the emerging Jose Ramirez at third base, the Indians have a strong core of infielders locked in for the next few seasons. This in turn not only limits the chances for Gonzalez to impact, but also to fit on the Major League roster. But after what was arguably his best minor league season last year at Triple-A Columbus and a solid Major League debut, he is someone who should be in the mix for a utility role and be one of the first options the Indians call upon if an injury befalls one of the aforementioned trio of infielders in Cleveland. He’s a hacker and won’t walk much, but he shows solid contact ability and some interesting pop in his bat for a middle infielder that makes him very interesting. He really took a step forward last season just in his overall consistency both offensively and defensively and started driving the ball more at the plate, so when you combine that along with his athleticism and versatility to play virtually anywhere on the diamond except catcher you have a possible fit off the bench as utility player – and he could even become a commodity for teams looking to add a young middle infield option to their big league roster. For now, he’s just a depth option for the Indians and will open the season with a return to Columbus, but should be up in Cleveland at some point during the season and will have an opportunity at that time to solidify his place on the big league roster for the foreseeable future.
Ranking History: #23 (2016), #8 (2015), #40 (2014), Unranked (2010-2013)