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Bucco Breakfast: Erik Gonzalez’s Fire Is Back

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MLB: Detroit Tigers at Cleveland Indians David Richard-USA TODAY Sports

Being traded to Pittsburgh was “one of my happier days” in Erik Gonzalez’s baseball life.

Before every game, Erik Gonzalez took ground balls at shortstop. The Indians’ utilityman did take reps at other positions, but he always made sure he got practice time at his position of choice. He’s been a shortstop at heart since he was six years old. It’s where he wants to play.

But there was no place for Gonzalez to play in Cleveland, let alone at shortstop. MVP candidate Francisco Lindor was blocking him at his position of choice. To his left, Jason Kipnis had second base down. To his right, Jose Ramirez was dominating the hot corner. Not only did he not have a chance to start, he barely had a chance to play. There were only seven times in 2018 where Gonzalez made consecutive starts at any position.

That time on the bench took a toll on Gonzalez, but now that he’s in Pittsburgh, his passion is starting to reignite.

”If you play every day, your passion is like fire,” Gonzalez said. “Sometimes I played one day in two weeks. Just practice, practice. It’s a little bit hard. Now I feel like my passion is going to be on fire again because I’m going to play more now.”

Gonzalez, 27, was acquired in November in a five player deal that sent Jordan Luplow and Max Moroff to Cleveland. While he has accrued over two years of MLB service time, he only has 275 major league plate appearances to his name, slashing .263/.292/.389. While he had a better than average 89.6 MPH exit velocity last season, that was mostly negated by a 55.4% ground ball rate.

But his bat is secondary to his glove, which grabbed the attention of the Pirates’ scouting department. Clint Hurdle said scouts “beat the table” to get him to Pittsburgh.

“We’ve had people that’ve seen this man play defense and said, ‘This guy can be dynamic,’” Hurdle said. “He didn’t say he was going to be ‘OK.’ ‘OK’ wasn’t a word that came out of anybody’s mouth. ‘Above average. Dynamic. Very good. More range than anybody you’ve had at short.’”

While Gonzalez’s glove has earned rave reviews from scouts, the analytics aren’t as bullish. He has 0 DRS in 127 career innings at shortstop, but Gonzalez feels his lack of playing time is to blame.

“If you don’t play every day, you lose your range,” Gonzalez said. “You lose your timing in the field.”

Gonzalez will compete with Kevin Newman for playing job this spring. While that’s hardly a guarantee, it is something he never had in Cleveland: an opportunity.

“When I listened to the news (of the trade), I was really happy for me and my family, too, because it means I will have a little bit more chance here to play every day,” Gonzalez said. “I feel really good about it.”

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