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Erik Gonzalez Emerges As Utility Infielder

It was a nice problem to have, but Indians officials wished they didn’t have it.

Cleveland entered spring training with two major league-quality utility infielders. Both were 26 years old. Both were originally signed by the Indians in 2008 as international free agents. Both were out of minor league options—but only one major league roster spot was available.

The contestants were shortstop Erik Gonzalez and third baseman Gio Urshela. The winner was Gonzalez.

"I said all along: We don’t want to lose either one of them,” Indians manager Terry Francona said. "They’re our guys, and we value them, and they’re good kids.”

It came down to versatility. Urshela can play other infield positions, but he is best suited for third base, where he made some spectacular defensive plays last year in the 67 games he played with the Indians.

Gonzalez, on the other hand, has appeared at all four infield positions this season and has played every field position but catcher in the minors. 

A strained hamstring in spring training forced Urshela to start the season on the disabled list, and Gonzalez made the most of his opportunity.

In sporadic play this season, Gonzalez hit .361/.395/.583 in 22 games. As for Urshela, when he returned form the DL in early May he was traded to the Blue Jays.

Francona said that he and his coaching staff and the Indians front office had a number of long and difficult discussions trying to decide which player to keep. They were aware that they were probably going to lose the one they didn’t keep, since that player would almost certainly be claimed on waivers.

"We came to the conclusion that, one, Gonzalez is really helping us,” Francona said. "But I don’t doubt Gio would have, too. I think we were pretty much realizing we were probably going to lose one of them.”


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