CLEVELAND – Erik Gonzalez was 17-years-old when he first signed with the Indians on May 29, 2009.
His gradual development over the course of eight seasons with eight minor league teams has landed him a job in Cleveland, serving as the club’s utility man behind an infield core comprised of Jason Kipnis, Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez.
“(We’re) trying to find some games for Erik,” said manager Terry Francona. “He’s done a really good job. He’s been a good worker. He’s a great kid.”
The composition of the Tribe’s infield makes Gonzalez more of an afterthought due to the talent and experience of players atop the depth chart. For a franchise in search of their second consecutive postseason appearance, the window for opportunity is rather slim.
“I worry about him not playing enough,” Francona said. “That’s why I wanted him to play [on Sunday]. He’s young and he needs to continue to get better. It’s hard to do that when you’re not playing a lot. And I know that. I worry about that.”
Gonzalez slashed .313/.353/.313 (5-for-16) without committing an error in a similar role this past season, earning him an opportunity to beat out Michael Martinez for a spot on one of the better rosters in the American League.
“Well, I mean he’s such a good defender, especially in the infield – short and second – he’s a shortstop and he’s a really good defensive shortstop, but because of his skills he can move around and he’s pretty reliable,” said Francona. “And even to the point where you could put him in the outfield. He’s pretty athletic.”
Although Gonzalez started the year at Triple-A Columbus, he made enough of an impression in 32 games to get the call to the game’s highest level for the third time in his professional career.
The Dominican native is not only displaying his defensive prowess when given the rare chance, but he is also improving his value on both sides of the ball in a small sample size of eight games.
With extensive playing time across the pipeline, it seems Gonzalez could either carve out a permanent major league role in case of an injury or serve as a trade target if a bigger need arises further down the road.
“As far as him, I don’t worry about him (and) the way he’s handling it,” Francona said. “I don’t ever want to get in the way of his development. That’s not a good thing.”