Erik Gonzalez is a free-swinging shortstop who had a career-best season while still on the fringes of prospect status. He turned 25 in August after posting a 122 wRC+ with 11 home runs and 12 stolen bases in 104 games at Triple-A Columbus. Gonzalez parlayed this success into a cup of coffee in the big leagues, going 5-for-16 in limited at-bats. You may have heard of the Indians current shortstop, Francisco Lindor, who should be a fixture in the Cleveland middle infield for years to come. That makes Gonzalez more of a utility player heading into the 2017 campaign, though he could also be used as trade bait. He is a plus defender at shortstop, so he will be valuable as a defensive replacement at second base or third base, and would be the obvious replacement if Lindor suffers an injury.
Gonzalez went 2-for-4 with an RBI triple in Tuesday's exhibition game against Oakland. In his third Cactus League game, Gonzalez finally reached base after going 0-for-3 with a strikeout over the first two contests. Headed into spring training, the 25-year-old appeared to be on track for a reserve role on Opening Day. That plan has been hampered by the late-January addition of Ronny Rodriguez. Manager Terry Francona has spoken highly of the latter this spring, indicating Gonzalez will need to make a statement during camp to secure a spot on the 25-man-roster in April.
Gonzalez will have a fair shot to make the Opening Day roster as the team's top utility man, Keith Law of ESPN reports. Gonzalez made his major league debut in 2016 with the Indians. Although he only tallied 16 at-bats, the 25-year-old showed his defensively versatility by making appearances at second, third, short and right field. Over eight minor league seasons, Gonzalez slashed .274/.316/.395 while averaging 12 stolen bases a year. The utility man won't hit for power, but in deeper formats, the organization's No. 14 prospect is worth keeping an eye on this spring.
Gonzales was recalled from Triple-A Columbus on Thursday. With Columbus, Gonzalez has a .296/.329/.450 line, a vast improvement over 2015's mark of .223/.277/.311. He's had just nine at-bats with the big club this season, over which he notched one hit and five strikeouts. With Francisco Lindor playing shortstop, Gonzalez may spend some time in the Cleveland outfield, which he did earlier in the season.
Gonzalez was optioned to Triple-A Columbus on Friday. Gonzalez is probably one of the Indians' top prospects from a real life standpoint, based on his defense at shortstop, but he doesn't bring much to the table offensively, other than a solid hit tool. He has six homers and nine steals in 81 games at Triple-A this year, but as someone who is about to turn 25 and has logged 146 games at Triple-A in his career, those numbers aren't that impressive. Michael Martinez was claimed off waivers as a corresponding move.
Gonzalez was recalled by the Indians on Thursday, Jordan Bastian of MLB.com reports. Gonzalez adds depth and versatility to an Indians infield that, while strong, is relatively shallow. He has slashed .296/.328/.420 with six home runs and nine steals at Triple-A Columbus this season and he will provide a solid right-handed bat off the bench. The Indians optioned lefty reliever T.J. House in a corresponding move Thursday.