KANSAS CITY -- As players age throughout their Minor League careers, the dream of reaching the Majors becomes more difficult to attain. Indians catcher Gianpaul González was selected in the 20th round of the 2014 MLB Draft and has spent the majority of this season with High-A Lake County. As much as he tried to keep his dream alive, he admitted he wasn’t sure if it could happen.
Then, his phone rang.
Carter Hawkins, one of Cleveland's assistant general managers, was on the other line. He explained that backup catcher Wilson Ramos tore his ACL and sprained his MCL on Sunday afternoon and the team was in need of a backup catcher. And suddenly, González heard the words every professional player waits to hear, “Congratulations, you’re going to the Major League team.”
“It was unbelievable,” González said, with a grin that spanned from ear to ear. “It was exciting in the moment. I’m still excited. I don’t believe it yet. But I’m here to contribute to the team and help them.”
How did the Indians reach this decision? The team lost Ramos for the rest of the season, while Triple-A catchers Ryan Lavarnway and Gavin Collins are both going through COVID-19 protocols. Bo Naylor, ranked as the club's No. 6 prospect by MLB Pipeline, has drawn plenty of attention in Double-A, but would it be worth it to start his service time clock for a stint that would last just a few days before he’d be optioned back to the Minors? Probably not.
The Indians debated having Roberto Pérez, who’s missed the last few weeks with right shoulder inflammation, skip his rehab assignment, which began on Tuesday in Akron, and immediately join the big league team, but the club decided that wasn’t fair to him.
So, why not turn to a guy who’s not an enormous risk and has done his best to prove that he can hold his own defensively?
“The situation itself is a little bit unique,” Indians assistant general manager Matt Forman said. “Kind of the climate has created some roster challenges. It's been a little bit of a scramble over the last 24 hours to figure things out. But we're excited about this opportunity for Gianpaul, who has put himself in a position to make the most of this.”
González knows the situation. He understands this isn’t a permanent role, and he’s aware there’s a chance he’ll never get into a game, as Lavarnway or Collins will likely join the team as soon as they get their clearances. That doesn’t stop his child-like excitement to be in the big leagues, even if only for a brief moment.
The 25-year-old backstop received the news on Monday afternoon, and before doing anything else, he dialed his dad.
“That’s the person [who’s helped me the most in being] successful in baseball]," González said. "He was so happy. We started crying. Just happiness.”
His father, Pablo, was in Puerto Rico when the news came his way. He immediately booked a flight to Kansas City to try to get to Kauffman Stadium in time for Tuesday's series opener, while González’s younger brother, who attends college in St. Louis, did the same.
“Just happy that they’re coming here,” González said. “Thanks to God, I’m here to play in the big leagues.”
González has experience working with some of Cleveland's pitching staff, including Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale and Zach Plesac, as they came up together through the Minor League system. He’s also had the opportunity to catch a handful of pitchers in Spring Training. But his opportunities in the Minors have been limited. He’s played at nearly every level, but has spent the majority of his time in Lake County. In 14 games with the Captains and just one game with Triple-A Columbus, he is hitting a combined .250 with a .645 OPS. But he’s not letting that stop him from proving what he can do if given the chance.
“I was ready to be there,” González said. “Just 15 games. They wanted it like that. Game by game, I’m hustling, preparing myself to be here, and I’m just gonna enjoy it. Enjoy it and forget about that. Be ready for the moment I get in.”
Childhood Cancer Awareness Day
For the sixth consecutive year, MLB will partner with its clubs to raise awareness for childhood cancer during all games on Wednesday. All on-field personnel will wear gold ribbon decals and wristbands, and home teams have the opportunity to feature ceremonial activities in their ballparks.
Even though the Indians are on the road, they have their own initiatives they want to honor. Cleveland is a founding partner of VeloSano – a year-round, community-driven fundraising effort to support lifesaving cancer research at the Cleveland Clinic. The team has already helped raise over $24 million over the last seven years.
Meanwhile, Civale has created his Pearls for Perseverance player program to bring smiles and positivity to pediatric cancer patients at the Cleveland Clinic. He signs his warmup baseballs prior to each start and ships them to a friend in need at the Clinic, and he and his fiancé often Zoom with the patients after receiving their gift.