Gonzalez charting own course to Majors

Natural SS getting looks at other positions while fine-tuning offense

March 12th, 2016

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Indians infielder Erik Gonzalez is a natural shortstop and he loves the position, but smart enough to see the writing on the wall, on the website, in the clubhouse and pretty much anywhere a depth chart could be written.

Francisco Lindor, 22, is the club's starting shortstop for the foreseeable future and Gonzalez knows it. But Gonzalez also knows there is more than one way to the Major Leagues and it's his job to make his big league dreams come true.

"You always have obstacles in your path and it's about how you handle it and accomplish your goals," Gonzalez, 24, said in Spanish. "Lindor is a great player, but I have to find my own way to the Major Leagues. That's what I am looking for and working for right now. I want to get better."

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Gonzalez, who can also play third base, has played shortstop and second base this spring, primarily in an effort to get him at-bats. At the plate, he has five hits in his first 17 at-bats in nine Cactus League games. He's also scored three runs. On Saturday, Gonzalez started at shortstop in the Cactus League game against the Padres.

Indians manager Terry Francona heaped praise on the young infielder, describing him as "exciting," "fun," and "intelligent." Francona also called Gonzalez "one of the best defenders in camp."

"In our mind, he's a shortstop. I know Lindor is here," Francona said. "We get that, but with a guy who's that good of a defensive shortstop, I didn't want him to sit here and not play. He has the ability to move all over the place. He can probably play center field and first base, too. But for the sake of getting at-bats, we wanted to move him around, but we told him he's a shortstop."

There's still room for improvement at the plate for Gonzalez. He's specifically working on improving the timing mechanism associated with his swing and his leg kick.

"As he learns to do that consistently, he could be a guy that could just take off," Francona said. "You might not see the killer numbers in A-ball or Double-A, but as he grows into his body and his swing, there is no limit on what he can do. I told him the other day that the sky is the limit and you can't tell everybody that, but there are still some things, especially at the plate, that he's working on."

Gonzalez, the 12th-ranked Indians prospect according to MLBPipeline.com, combined to hit .255 with 24 doubles, seven triples and nine home runs at Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus in 2015. He's combined to post a .270 batting average with 114 doubles, 37 triples and 27 home runs in seven Minor League seasons. He's also played for the Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Republic during the last three winters.

"I'm just trying to learn from the veterans here and get better," Gonzalez said. "Right now, I think I'm going to Triple-A, but I want to be ready for whatever they decide. I'm just preparing myself to show them my best. I can play any position they want me to."