When fans file into Canal Park tonight, some will be looking for a great game, some are just there for some family fun and many will hope to see future Cleveland Indians.
Shortstop Erik Gonzalez might be on the top of their list this season. He’s rated the Tribe’s eighth-best prospect by Baseball America. MLB.com puts him at No. 11.
He was the first player mentioned by Ducks manager Dave Wallace at Tuesday’s media day.
“I would throw out Erik Gonzalez’s name, our starting shortstop,” he said while relaxing in his clubhouse office. “What’s interesting for him and me as a manager is that for the last couple of years I’ve had Francisco Lindor and he moved up a level around the all-star break. Erik has come in and it’s funny to see the other manager’s and coaching staff’s reaction. There is a big sigh of relief that they finally got Lindor out of the league and then in comes this A-Rod- Manny Machado-type shortstop and they are like ‘Where do you guys get these shortstops’ because it’s rare to get one after the other.”
He plans to put the 6-foot-3, 195 pound infielder from the Dominican Republic in the middle of the batting order.
Gonzalez hit .357 in 129 at bats after being promoted to Akron after Lindor’s mid-season promotion to Columbus. Gonzalez has a .709 OPS, including 18 homers in 1,792 minor-league at bats. He will turn 24 on Aug. 31.
With Lindor and Jose Ramirez toping the organizations depth chart, Wallace said the Indians try to be realistic about the possibility Gonzalez will make his major-league debut somewhere other than Cleveland.
“The fact is we would love for all of them to wear a Cleveland Indians or Chief Wahoo hat but the reality is that might not happen,” he said.
Wallace, a former Akron Aero, tells his team “when you go out there, when you’re playing, it’s not only for the Cleveland Indians. There are scouts seeing you from other organizations.”
He points to the RubberDucks’ second baseman in 2014.
“It happened to Joey Wendell last year,” he said. “He’s someone that we just loved and valued in this organization, the type of player he was, the type of person he is. But the reality is, if you get a chance to get a Brandon Moss, you know, well we wish Joe the best.”
Wendle went to the Oakland Athletics for first baseman/outfield Brandon Moss, an All-Star last year who hit 25 home runs.
The A’s have assigned Wendle to AAA Nashville Sounds.
Wallace expects outfielder Anthony Gallas to be another fan favorite, in part because of local connections. He played for Strongsville High School and was signed by an undrafted free agent out of Kent State.
“He’s done just a fabulous job of earning his way into the everyday lineup and hit over 20 home runs last year,” Wallace said.
That’s counting the eight homers he hit for Carolina last season. He hit 16 more after a promotion to Akron. In 309 at bats for the Ducks, he hit .293 with a .536 slugging percentage.
Wallace said any promotion is significant but getting to AA is a big step, especially for an undrafted free agent.
“AA definitely seems to be a separator level.” He said. “A lot of guys get weeded out before they get here.”
Wallace’s players arrived in Akron on Sunday and had a few days to set up living arrangements before beginning the 142-game schedule.
It’s not the first time they had to set up in a new city.
“These guys are all a few years into their professional careers,” Wallace said. “They have a good grasp on that aspect of it and what they need to get ready.”
Still, Akron, Canal Park and the minor-league atmosphere are distinct from what they see when they watch Big League parks on television.
It often seems many fans are there for the promotions, fireworks and between-inning games.
“I think they all get it,” Wallace said of the players. “They know not only are these fans coming to watch future major-league players but they are also coming to bring their family for a good summer night, to enjoy a good game of baseball and it’s not just about the players.”
As for the promotions, the players have more important things to think about than the sideline games the fans enjoy.
“The only time we notice is when that stuff runs long and our pitcher is waiting to get on the mound and he’s waiting for them to get off,” he said.
Then he admitted he sometimes takes a peak.
“They do play some good games to keep an eye on,” he said. “One of my favorites is the dizzy bat race. You never know what you will see there.”