Pirates give strong indications they believe highly in Erik Gonzalez as ’19 everyday shortstop
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington compared Erik Gonzalez to an established and respected major-league veteran shortstop. Manager Clint Hurdle said the team’s scouts tell him that Gonzalez can be “dynamic, very good.” And even Gonzalez himself disclosed that the day he was traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates was “one of my happier days I have had in baseball” because “I have a chance to play everyday.”
In other words, if the company line is that the job as the successor to longtime Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer remains up for grabs in spring training, no one in the organization seems to be talking that way.
“I feel very good about playing everyday,” Gonzalez said from PNC Park on Saturday at PIratesFest. “This is my third (full) year in the big leagues, and I know the league, I know how the pitchers throw…
“I think I am ready to play everyday, and I know I am ready for being in the (everyday) lineup.”
Gonzalez, 27, was acquired in November along with a pair of minor leaguers from the Cleveland Indians in exchange for Max Moroff and Jordan Luplow. No one openly has deemed him the Pirates’ opening day shortstop, instead keeping open the idea that the Pirates still might yet address the position in free agency or that youngster like Kevin Newman could win the gig. (Any idea that Jung Ho Kang would be an everyday shortstop in 2019 was essentially put to rest by both management and Kang Saturday).
But both Huntington and Hurdle spoke glowingly about Gonzalez on Saturday – and Gonzalez revealed that he spoke with his agent about moving on from Cleveland, where he was blocked by perennial All-star Francisco Lindor at short (not to mention an MVP candidate at third base in Jose Ramirez, plus another former all-star at second in Jason Kipnis).
“I was talking to my agent to try to move to another team and when I listened to the news (of the trade to Pittsburgh) I was really happy for me and my family, too, because it means I will have a little bit more chance here to play everyday,” Gonzalez said, “and I feel really good about it.”
So, too, do the Pirates, if Huntington’s response to a question from a fan during a forum Saturday about if the Pirates would pursue free-agent shortstop Freddy Galvis is to be believed.
“We feel like we got a young Freddy Galvis; his name is Erik Gonzalez,” Huntington said. “We feel like we got a young Jordy Mercer; his name is Kevin Newman. We feel both players can be what they were or better. There’s the really good chance they’re going to be as good if not better than what Freddy Galvis or any of the others who are out there right now or any of the players we can get in a trade right now.”
Hurdle said Pirates scouts were “beating the table” to acquire Gonzalez, who has a .263 average and .681 OPS with five home runs in 162 major-league games between 2016-18.
“The kid can play,” Hurdle said. “The kid hasn’t had a chance to play because of the people he’s playing behind.
“But we’ve had people that’ve seen this man play defense and said, ‘This guy can be dynamic.’ 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 maybe some you have managed.’”
Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.