Erik Gonzalez Is Swinging A Hot Bat In The Dominican Winter League

(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images)
(Photo by Leon Halip/Getty Images) /

The newest member of the Pittsburgh Pirates is currently one of the hottest hitters in the Dominican Winter League

On Wednesday, the Pittsburgh Pirates acquired utility infielder Erik Gonzalez from the Cleveland Indians in a five-player trade. Currently, Gonzalez is playing for the Liga de Beisbol in the Dominican Winter League. 13 games into the winter league season, Gonzalez has been one of the best hitters in the league.

The past three seasons Gonzalez has accumulated 275 plate appearances at the MLB level. He’s slashed just .263/.292/.389 with a .293 wOBA, 78 wRC+, and a strikeout rate of 28.7% at the MLB level. However, there is reason to think Gonzalez is improving as a hitter.

First and foremost, Gonzalez’s quality of contact was drastically improved in 2018. His 39.2% hard contact rate was more than seven percentage points higher than 2017, and above league average. His 89.9mph exit velocity last season was above league average as well.

So, while the results were not always there for Gonzalez in 2018, the quality of contact was.

A second indicator that Gonzalez could be improving at the plate is the aforementioned Dominican Winter League results. Entering play on Friday, Gonzalez was slashing .314/.333/.373 in winter league play. In fact, Gonzalez’s batting average ranks second in the league, his three doubles are tied for fourth most, and his 16 hits are fifth most.

Maybe what’s most encouraging is that his strikeout rate is just 11.8%. Not only is that a vast improvement over his career strikeout rate at the MLB level, but it is also well below MLB league average.

This winter Gonzalez is experiencing what happens when you combine his improved contact quality form 2018 with more consistent contact and fewer strikeouts. As one would expect, the results are positive. Hopefully, this becomes sustainable for Gonzalez.

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Gonzalez turning a corner as a hitter this winter would be a big plus for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2019 and beyond. Due to his ability to be a plus defender at multiple positions, Gonzalez would make a great super utility player. If he can add more offense to his repertoire a well, then acquiring him for Max Moroff and Jordan Luplow will go down as a strong trade by Neal Huntington.