Mudcats Notebook: Gonzalez making necessary strides
The Carolina Mudcats had one of their best weeks of the season this week, reeling off five wins in six games.
The Mudcats took the final two games of a four-game set against Lynchburg and three of four against Winston-Salem. The team also put the finishing touches on a season-best five-game winning streak, which ended with Sunday’s loss to the Dash.
At week’s end, Carolina sits atop the second-half Southern Division standings at 16-10, two games ahead of first-half champion Myrtle Beach.
This week, the Mudcats have a six-game road trip, traveling to Lynchburg and Myrtle Beach for three games apiece before returning home for the start of a home series against Wilmington.
Shortstop Erik Gonzalez is the lone member of the Indians 40-man roster with the Carolina Mudcats this season.
The prospect from the Dominican Republic was added to the 40-man roster last off-season as a protection from the Rule 5 draft.
Gonzalez played in the Dominican Summer League for three seasons before making the move to rookie baseball in 2011. Since that time, he has consistently moved up the ladder at an average pace.
He is finally making the strides necessary to be considered a top prospect, especially at the plate.
This season, Gonzalez is either first or second on the team in four major offensive categories. He leads the team in with a .290 average, is tied for the team lead with 44 RBIs, second with 39 runs scored, and is second with 15 stolen bases. Gonzalez has also hit three home runs, six triples and 14 doubles this season.
“It’s really exciting,” Gonzalez said. “When the pitcher makes a mistake, I make the adjustment to try to get a hit. I can try to get a walk or get a hit, but wait for a good one. That’s what I’ve learned this year.”
His play earned him a spot on the Carolina League All-Star team this season after being named an Organizational All-Star at the end of 2013 by MiLB.com.
Defense has always been the shortstop’s calling card, and he has continued to shine in the field this season after Baseball America named Gonzalez to have the strongest arm in all of the Indians’ farm system.
“I like to play defense,” he said. “I work hard to get better, but I just really like to play out in the field.”
While Akron was suffering from the injury bug, Gonzalez was called up to Double-A to help the team. He didn’t disappoint batting .296 with a home run, two doubles, four RBIs and seven runs scored in six games at the next level.
“When I went, I knew it was a good thing,” Gonzalez said. “That’s a family over there. The little things I learned over there, I have tried to bring to this team.”
Even though he has already been in the Indians organization for what will soon be six years, Gonzalez is starting to come into his own in his fourth season playing baseball in the United States.
Player of the Week
Erik Gonzalez (SS): 11-28, 7 R, 2 2B, 1 3B, 1 HR, 7 RBI, 5 K, 2 SB
Gonzalez had a monster week at the plate, collecting a hit and scoring a run in every game this week. At week’s end, he had a nine-game hitting streak going, his second longest of the season after having a 16-game streak earlier in the year. In Friday’s win, Gonzalez hit his first career grand slam to give the Mudcats a 4-0 lead. The shortstop has enjoyed a great year offensively, and continues to play stellar defense to back up what has become a solid approach at the plate.
Clayton Cook (RHP): 2 G, 2-0, 4.2 IP, 6 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 0 K
Even though his stats might not look like much, Cook took advantage of two lucky situations he was put in, and came away with his first two wins since 2012. The right hander has shown this season he is capable of going long in relief if called upon, this week he did, going three innings in Thursday night’s win.
Adam Plutko (RHP): 1 GS, 1-0, 7.0 IP, 5 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 9 K
Riding a person three game losing streak coming into this week’s start, Plutko pushed all that out of his mind and pitched a great game on Friday, pick up his first victory since May 29th. Even though the offense put the game out away early, Plutko’s dominance kept the Dash from making a game out of it.
Alex Monsalve (C): 5-21, 2 HR, 9 RBI, 4 K
In a week when a player only collects five hits, it wouldn’t be expected for them to be one of the team’s best players of the week. However, Monsalve truly deserves his place on this list, as he clubbed two home runs, and batted in nine runs this week. The highlight of his week was a grand slam that broke a late tie, leading the team to victory
Yandy Diaz (3B): 11-24, 7 R, 1 HR, 4 RBI, 3 BB, 3 K
Diaz can flat out hit. His batting was the reason the Indians took a chance on him, but his defense is beginning to come around. He looks much more comfortable on the field than he did when the season began, and he looks as comfortable as ever at the plate. All of this comes after he missed the majority of the first half with a broken wrist.
On the Hook
Ryan Merritt (LHP): 1 GS, 0-1, 7.2 IP, 7 H, 5 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
Merritt doesn’t deserve to be on this list for the first 86 pitches he threw in his lone start this week. But the one pitch that did put him on this list was a big one. With two on and two out in the eighth inning, Merritt served up a hanging breaking ball to Winston Salem’s Courtney Hawkins that he sent over the outfield wall to give the Dash a 5-4 win. In picking up his third loss of the season, Merritt’s ERA soared to 2.10, putting it over two for the first time all season.
Jerrud Sabourin (1B): 6-19, 1 R, 2 RBI, 3 BB, 2 K
Sabourin just cannot catch a break anywhere this season. After starting the season in Double-A, he was sent back to the Mudcats because he just wasn’t playing in Akron. He was playing pretty well in place of the injured Joe Sever. When Sever came back, he took over at first base, and Sabourin was put in the backup role again. Even though he does still get playing time, albeit in the outfield, it is taking a toll on his bat, so he is not producing at the level he is capable of at the plate.
Joe Sever (1B): 3-17, 3 R, 2 RBI, 5 K
After hitting .358 when he came off the disabled list in early June, Sever has cooled down tremendously, batting just .245 in July. He only managed to get three hits this week, but did score a run every time he reached base. But any time a player has more strikeouts than hits in a week, there is clearly a problem.
Fish Swimming Around
Only one roster move affected the Mudcats this week. Right-hander Benny Suarez was promoted to Triple-A Columbus, but is currently enjoying some time off, as it is the All-Star break at the Triple-A level.
Fish on the Line
No Mudcats players were add to, or taken off of the disabled list this week.
Zachary is a senior at NC State where he is majoring in communication-media, with minors in journalism and theatre. You can follow him on Twitter @RealZachFrancis.