- TEAM: Cleveland Indians
- AGE: 25
- POSITIONS: SS/2B/3B/OF
- BATS: Right
- THROWS: Right
- HEIGHT: 6-foot-2
- WEIGHT: 190 lbs.
- ACQUIRED: The Cleveland Indians signed Gonzalez as an international free agent from the Dominican Republic in 2008
Gonzalez is the consummate utility player. His greatest value is his ability to play virtually every defensive position on the field. And he plays them all well.
He has soft hands and a very quick first step. His range at shortstop and second base allows him to get to the ball quickly, plant his feet, get settled and make a solid throw to first base.
When he began as a rookie in the Indians organization, Gonzalez played all over the field in the Dominican Rookie League and Arizona Rookie League from 2009-2012. During that time, he played games at second base, shortstop, left field, right field, third base and even first base. It wasn’t until he moved to Class-A at Lake County in the Midwest League that he added center field to his resume. That was in 2013.
Gonzalez has an extremely strong throwing arm that enables him to play anywhere on the diamond, including right field.
Offensively, Gonzalez has enough speed to beat out infield hits and bunts. He can steal bases and take an extra base when needed. His speed is a terrific offensive asset, and it is magnified when his surprising doubles-hitting gap power is factored in the equation.
Gonzalez is a solid contact hitter, putting the bat on the ball, swinging early in counts and keeping his strikeouts at a reasonable amount.
Offensively, Gonzalez has not shown home run power. That factor doesn’t really detract from his overall value, but he shouldn’t be counted upon to hit the ball over the fence. In his career, he has hit only 48 home runs at all levels in 3,506 plate appearances.
Aside from his lack of home run power, the other weakness in his offense is his aggressive approach. He doesn’t have much patience at the plate. Not walking much at all, Gonzalez goes to the plate hunting base hits. However, he has cut down on the length of his swing and has changed the fact that he was once considered more of a free-swinger with limited plate discipline.
Defensively, I have always found Gonzalez very capable of making the spectacular play. His flow to the ball is effortless and excellent. However, there are times he is too casual on the easy ground ball, and that’s where his errors mount. He takes the easy ground ball for granted and becomes lackadaisical at times. His mistakes are usually more mental than physical lapses.
Gonzalez was among the candidates the Indians had been grooming to play shortstop at the major-league level. However, the drafting, signing and ultimate arrival of Francisco Lindor as a potential superstar has changed that thinking. Lindor is doing everything well for the Indians, playing himself into the role of a consistent future all-star, if he isn’t considered one already. The result has left Gonzalez as a utility infielder in the organization.
He received his first opportunity at the major-league level with the Indians last season. He made his debut on July 16, 2016 against the Minnesota Twins. He went hitless in his only at-bat.
Gonzalez played in 21 Indians games last year, going to the plate 17 times. He finished the short stint with five hits, all of them singles. His batting average was a solid .313.
As spring training opened this year, Gonzalez was in the conversation to win the utility role. He, Yandy Diaz and Michael Martinez were all discussed as bench players who could possibly start the season on the 25-man roster.
As everything developed, the Indians wanted Gonzalez to get everyday at-bats at Triple-A Columbus. Martinez won the utility infielder position as Gonzalez and Diaz were both optioned.
Now in mid-May, the Indians have made several major-league roster moves. One of the moves included Martinez being designated for assignment and subsequently traded to the Tampa Bay Rays for cash or a player to be named later.
While they were playing the Indians in Cleveland, the Rays traded for Martinez after Brad Miller went on the disabled list.
Probably the most important move for Gonzalez was his addition to the team’s 25-man roster.
Gonzalez is a good enough prospect to have been named to both the Double-A Midwest League All-Star Team when he played for Akron in 2014 and the Triple-A All-Star Team in 2016 while playing for Columbus in the International League.
THE FUTURE FOR GONZALEZ
As long as he remains on the Indians roster, Gonzalez will be seen as a utility infielder with the capability of backing up Lindor at shortstop and playing anywhere else on the field he may be needed.
However, at one point not long ago, Jose Ramirez was in a similar position with Cleveland. He had a great bat, good range, great hands and no particular position to call his own. Ramirez hit his way into a permanent role on the club by playing a terrific left field in the absence of the injured Michael Brantley during the 2016 season. Gonzalez awaits his golden opportunity to show what he can do on a more regular basis.
Diaz is also a rover looking for a permanent defensive home with Cleveland, but he, too ,is a utility player on the depth chart. Diaz is a better overall hitter than Gonzalez.
Gonzalez and Diaz have both been part of the improved Indians bench. Diaz can cover third base and primarily left field, and Gonzalez can cover everything else. They make a very exciting and dynamic duo coming off the bench or getting spot starts. Recently, however, Diaz was returned to Triple-A due to a crowded big-league roster. That clearly means the super-utility player is now Gonzalez. He is the survivor for the moment among the trio of Diaz, Martinez and Gonzalez for the all-important utility role on a contending Indians team.
Gonzalez is capable of playing shortstop or second base on a regular, everyday basis. That won’t happen in Cleveland with both Lindor and Jason Kipnis ahead of him on the depth chart. What he can do, however, is play very well when needed. He can give a player a day off or come off the bench as a substitute. He can play solid defense and hit enough to keep the opposing pitcher concerned.
An excellent athlete, Gonzalez has enough pop to hit the gaps for doubles and eventually perhaps get some home runs.
In my observations and while scouting Gonzalez I have seen him make some easy plays look hard. He has also made very difficult plays look easy while on defense. He has a tendency to lose a bit of focus at times.
SCOUTING PHRASE FOR GONZALEZ: Very capable and talented defense-first player without a current permanent position on the Indians roster.
SCOUTING GRADE FOR GONZALEZ: 50 – capable of being a regular everyday player at shortstop or second base if given the opportunity.
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