Marwin Gonzalez making most of opportunity


Astros shortstop Marwin Gonzalez is one of the hottest players in the American League. Now, there’s a statement I never thought I’d be typing — but it’s true. Gonzalez has homered in back-to-back games and is now 8 for 18 (.444) for the season. Making the most of his opportunities has become a recurring theme for the 24-year old from Venezuela.

Prior to the 2012 season, the Cubs left Gonzalez unprotected in the Rule 5 draft and he was selected by the Boston Red Sox. Boston promptly traded Marwin to the Astros and the youngster was probably starting to think no one wanted him. But the Astros, in a rebuilding mode, felt like the slick fielding young shortstop was worth taking a look at. Even though he was acquired via trade, the Rule 5 stipulation still applied. Gonzalez would have to stay on the Astros big league roster all season or be offered back to his original organization (where he would likely continue to toil in the minor leagues).

Marwin Gonzalez (Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports)

Gonzalez had already spent seven seasons in the minors (he started playing pro ball at the age of 17) and was ready for the challenge of the big leagues. But making the Astros roster wouldn’t be easy. Houston had taken relief pitcher Rhiner Cruz with the first overall pick in the Rule 5 draft, and keeping two unproven rookies on the roster all season seemed unlikely. At this point, Gonzalez was definitely a longshot.

A week later the Astros pulled off a trade for Jed Lowrie and announced that he would be their starting shortstop. Spring Training was still two months away and it appeared almost certain that another year of bus rides and minor league paychecks were in Marwin’s future.

Gonzalez had a so-so spring, hitting only .208. But he also drew seven walks and the Astros were impressed enough by his defensive skills to give him a spot on the Opening Day roster. Lowrie would suffer a thumb injury in the last week of camp and Gonzalez would find himself in the starting lineup on Opening Day against the Rockies. Now it was time for Marwin to sink or swim.

Gonzalez held down the fort at shortstop for the first six games of the season until Lowrie was ready to return. With a 6 for 21 performance, the switch-hitter had at least bought some more time in the majors. With Lowrie back in the fold, Gonzalez saw fairly regular action filling in at second base, third base, and shortstop. He was also being used as a pinch-hitter.

A bruised heel suffered in early June would temporarily derail Gonzalez’s season. He was placed on the disabled list and sent on a minor league rehab assignment when he was healthy enough to play. In mid-July, another injury to Lowrie would open the door for Marwin. Gonzalez was recalled from his rehab assignment and, once again, assumed everyday shortstop duties for the Astros. Gonzalez performed steadily at the plate and in the field until he, and the entire team, went into a slump in early August.

But Gonzalez continued to forge ahead, employing a gritty style of play that kept him on the roster. Unfortunately, the injury bug would strike again for Gonzalez. With only a month remaining in the season, Marwin tore a ligament in his ankle when he stepped awkwardly on the first base bag trying to leg out a hit. It looked like his season would be over. But Gonzalez would again overcome adversity and make it back from the disabled list for the last week of the season.

When all was said and done, Gonzalez had posted a modest .234/.280/.327 slash line in his first 219 big league plate appearances. Gonzalez had worked hard to prove that he was worthy of the roster spot. He could take pride in the fact that it was his defense, his versatility, and his work ethic that kept him on the roster for the entire season.

But what about 2013? Now that he had minor league options available, surely Gonzalez would be sent down to AAA for more seasoning. Or would he? Going into Spring Training the Astros announced there would be a competition between Gonzalez and Tyler Greene for the starting shortstop job. Greene was out of minor league options. That, and his ability to hit the ball out of the park made him a clear cut favorite over Gonzalez.

Again, Marwin would rise to the occasion. With a .333 on base percentage and two spring homers, Marwin’s numbers weren’t exactly overwhelming — but Greene had trouble making contact and the Astros choice was an easy one. As Robert Ford pointed out when he appeared on our podcast, Gonzalez battled in every at-bat and didn’t look like a guy who hit only .234 last season.

Gonzalez earned a spot on the roster and Greene was sent packing. Suddenly, things were looking up. But with only a few days remaining before Opening Day, the Astros acquired veteran Ronny Cedeno to be their starting shortstop. I mean, why make it easy for Gonzalez?

Cedeno would get the start in the opener against Texas and come through with a beautiful hit-and-run single. But Bo Porter thought Marwin had earned a chance to compete and inserted him into the lineup for game two. Of course, Yu Darvish came out and made the Astros look silly, retiring the first 26 batters he faced. Then, Marwin Gonzalez overcame an infinite amount of pressure and elevated himself to rock star status among Astros fans by breaking up the perfect game with a hard hit single right back through the box. Thank you, Marwin. Thank you!

Marwin Gonzalez sent Yu Darvish to the showers and denied him a place in the baseball history books (Thomas Campbell-USA TODAY Sports)

Gonzalez single-handedly spared all of Astros Nation a ton of ridicule with that one clutch base hit. We will forever be indebted.

Since that time Gonzalez and Cedeno have shared playing time at shortstop — that is, until the last two games. Marwin has forced his manager to keep him in the lineup with his outstanding effort and positive results. There have been a few hiccups along the way, but Marwin’s never say die attitude has helped him persevere. It’s nice to have such a versatile and capable young player on the team. Keep on doing what you do, Marwin. To us, you’ll always be a rock star.