ERIK GONZALEZ, SHORTSTOP
|Born: August 31, 1991
Signed: Int’l Free Agent, 2008, Cleveland Indians
How Acquired: Trade (with Indians for Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff)
Country: Dominican Republic
WTM’s PLAYER PROFILE
|Gonzalez rose very slowly through Cleveland’s system, partly as a result of being stuck behind Francisco Lindor. Early in his career, he played mostly in the infield and outfield corners, which didn’t exactly seem like a path forward for him. He got on the prospect charts in 2013, when he moved to shortstop late in the season. Although he’s taller than the typical shortstop, Gonzalez is athletic and has a strong arm. His speed is a little above average. At the plate, he’s shown decent power in the minors, but he doesn’t take many pitches, and his walk and K rates have generally been bad. He hits the ball hard but has an extreme tendency to hit the ball on the ground. The Pirates acquired Gonzalez and two low-level pitchers for Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff.
In his debut, Gonzalez played mostly at second and a little at short. He didn’t do much on offense besides show some speed.
The Indians sent Gonzalez back to the DSL, where this time he played nearly everywhere, including first and the outfield corners. He made significant progress at the plate.
In the Arizona League, Gonzalez hit more like he had in his debut. He split his time between first and third.
Gonzalez served as a corner utility player in the New York-Penn League and had a rough time, hitting very little and struggling to make contact.
Still playing third, Gonzalez went to low A and had a much better year, mainly in the form of increased power. He moved up to high A late in the season and also moved to short. Despite the fact that he mostly struggled at the plate, he impressed enough on defense that Baseball America rated him the Indians’ 19th best prospect. Cleveland added him to the 40-man roster after the season.
The Indians kept Gonzalez at short and he had a better all-around year at the plate, especially after moving up to AA late in the year. He continued to play well defensively and BA rated him the team’s 8th best prospect. Gonzalez missed a little time with a finger injury, which may be why the Indians were able to get an extra option for him.
Gonzalez split the season between AA and AAA. He hit reasonably well in AA, albeit with poor plate discipline. He struggled in AAA. BA ranked him 12th in the Indians’ system.
Gonzalez opened the season in AAA, and also got called up for several weeks in mid-July and came up again in September. He played mostly short in AAA, but moved around between second, third, short and right in the majors. In AAA, he had his best season offensively, with good power but still with poor plate discipline. BA ranked him 9th in the Indians’ system after the season.
Gonzalez split the season between AAA and the majors, where he served as a utility player. His hitting was more of the same: some power with very bad walk and K rates. BA ranked him 11th in the Cleveland system.
Out of options, Gonzalez spent the season with Cleveland as a utility infielder. With Francisco Lindor around, he didn’t play much short. He instead saw most of his time at second and third, with a little at first.
Despite the lack of any indication in his track record that Gonzalez could be a starting-quality shortstop, the Pirates made it clear from the time they acquired him that he’d be the regular. He struggled to hit in the early season, but three weeks in he broke his collarbone in a collision with Starling Marte. He returned for rehab at the end of June, had his rehab halted and then came back a short time later. He returned to the Pirates at the beginning of August and spent the rest of the season in a utility role, playing regularly through much of September as the team had a rash of injuries. He ended up seeing quite a bit of time in the outfield. Gonzalez played well defensively at short, but his hitting was largely what his history suggested it’d be, with bad walk and K rates. The one difference was that he hit with much less power than he’d shown previously. It took a strong stretch in the second half of September — a time when stats should always be viewed with skepticism — to raise his numbers as high as they got.
Gonzalez started the season playing semi-regularly, alternating between third and short. In early August, he got hot, going 12-for-24 over a six-game stretch, including a six-RBI game. With the team’s offense mostly in a coma, including Kevin Newman, Gonzalez became the starting shortstop. His plate discipline remained awful, though, which should have been a warning. In September he batted just 184/213/253, leaving his numbers more or less where they’ve always been. He nevertheless remained the regular shortstop through the end of the season. Depending on which stat you check, he was either a little above or a little below average defensively.
The Pirates’ continued fascination with Gonzalez is one of the more baffling tendencies for a team that’s made a host of baffling decisions, even after the change in management. Their obsession has always been based on scouting and not performance, but their supposition that he’s got hidden hitting ability isn’t being borne out. In fact, his hitting has been worse with the Pirates than it was before he joined them. With Newman and Cole Tucker both coming off terrible seasons, it’s possible the obsession will continue. Gonzalez will be eligible for arbitration for the second time and should have been non-tendered, but the Pirates re-signed him for 2021. He’ll likely go into the season as the starting shortstop. The Pirates tied for last in MLB in fWAR from the position in 2020, with -0.3. They evidently feel no need to try to improve on that dismal showing, which is a discouraging sign.
UPDATE: The Pirates’ bizarre infatuation with Gonzalez continued well into 2021. Derek Shelton kept him in the lineup nearly every day. Even though his hitting was worse than ever — in wRC+ he ranked 264th among 268 major league players with 200+ plate appearances — Shelton usually batted him fifth or sixth, and a few times even third or fourth. Gonzalez suffered an oblique strain at the beginning of July. By the time he was ready to return, the Pirates had obtained several utility infielders in deadline deals and Wilmer Difo was hitting far better than Gonzalez. The team designated Gonzalez for assignment when it called Anthony Alford back up. Despite the Pirates’ fervent belief in Gonzalez’ talent, nobody claimed him and he was assigned to Indianapolis.
|Signing Bonus: N/A
MiLB Debut: 2009
MLB Debut: 7/16/2016
MiLB FA Eligible: 2021
MLB FA Eligible: 2023
Rule 5 Eligible: Eligible
Added to 40-Man: 11/20/2013 (since removed)
Options Remaining: 0 (USED: 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017)
MLB Service Time: 4.007
|August 26, 2008: Signed by the Cleveland Indians as an international free agent.
November 20, 2013: Contract purchased by the Cleveland Indians.
November 14, 2018: Traded by the Cleveland Indians with Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza to the Pittsburgh Pirates for Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff.
August 7, 2021: Designated for assignment by the Pittsburgh Pirates; outrighted to AAA on August 10.