By Roger Hoover / Smokies Radio Network
Many things have changed for the Chicago Cubs this offseason, as new President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein and General Manager Jed Hoyer put their touches on the Cubs roster and farm system. Many Cubs have changed organizations over the winter, including several former Tennessee Smokies. This week, the Smokies Radio Network will profile five notable former Smokies who will play for new organizations in 2012. We’ll take a look at what’s new for these players, as well as reflect on their time at Smokies Park.
Dec. 8, 2011 marked a day of change for several players across baseball, yet infielder Marwin Gonzalez will remember it as a day he was a part of three different major league organizations.
After completing his sixth season in the Chicago Cubs system, Gonzalez was selected by the Boston Red Sox in the Major League phase of the Rule 5 draft in December. Yet Gonzalez’s time with Boston was short-lived as he was traded by the Red Sox to the Houston Astros hours later to finish off a whirlwind of a day for the Venezuela native.
Gonzalez’s Rule 5 selection means that he will have to spend the entire 2012 season on the 40-man Astros roster or offered back to the Cubs, his original organization.
This provides Gonzalez his best chance to make a major league roster since he started playing professionally with the Cubs in 2006. Gonzalez spent the first four seasons of his Cubs career playing at the rookie or A ball affiliates before he received a call-up from High-A Daytona to Double-A Tennessee on May 7, 2010.
Gonzalez’s promotion was a corresponding move by the Cubs due to the major league call-up of then Smokies shortstop Starlin Castro, who has remained with Chicago since his MLB debut.
Replacing Castro was a tall order for Gonzalez, yet he posted a .339 batting average for the month of July and finished the season hitting .246 as the everyday shortstop for one of the most successful Smokies teams in franchise history.
Gonzalez began the 2011 season with the Smokies and became one of the most consistent hitting middle infielders in the Southern League. In 64 games with Tennessee, Gonzalez hit .301 with two homers and 20 runs batted in. In addition to his hitting, Gonzalez was more versatile in the Smokies infield, playing in 15 games at second base.
Gonzalez’s strong play with the Smokies earned him Southern League All-Star honors before he was promoted to Triple-A Iowa on June 26. Gonzalez got off to a hot start with Iowa, hitting .465 in his first 13 games with the I-Cubs. He finished the season hitting .274 with Iowa in 60 games, giving him a combined average between Tennessee and Iowa of .288 along with four homers and 39 RBI.
Here is an interview with Gonzalez during the 2010 season as he visited with Roger Hoover on the Smokies Radio Network:
What the Move Means for Gonzalez: Gonzalez now has his best shot at becoming a major leaguer with the Rule 5 draft protection. In addition to Gonzalez, Houston carries two other shortstops on the 40-man roster in Jed Lowrie and Angel Sanchez.
Both Lowrie and Sanchez have major league experience, with Lowrie having been in the big leagues since 2008. Lowrie played in parts of four seasons with the Boston Red Sox, and will likely be the starter at shortstop for Houston to begin 2012.
The Astros front office appears ready to give Gonzalez a chance to make the major league roster, and has complimented his defensive ability.
“Gonzalez has above-average defensive skills,” said Astros assistant general manager Dave Gottfried to MLB.com. “He’s a switch-hitter, will play the season at 23 years old and is having a real solid season in winter ball.”
“If you’re a young shortstop in the Cubs organization, you’re a little out of luck because they have a very good shortstop who probably going to be there for a long time to come,” added new Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow. “We’ll give him a chance to maybe make the team as a utility guy or an infielder.”
What the Move Means for the Cubs: As mentioned before, the Cubs have a young established star in Castro that is expected to anchor the shortstop position for years to come in Chicago.
Chicago’s faith in Castro was cemented last offseason when prized shortstop prospect Hak-Ju Lee was sent to Tampa Bay in the Matt Garza deal. The Cubs are losing some home-grown infield depth this offseason, losing Gonzalez along with Ryan Flaherty to the Orioles and D.J. LeMahieu who is now with the Rockies.
The Cubs do have young shortstop talent in Junior Lake, who spent most of 2011 with the Smokies and enters this season listed by Baseball America as Chicago’s no. 8 prospect.
Chicago also drafted a shortstop with its first pick in the 2011 draft, selecting Javier Baez out of high school with the ninth overall pick. Baseball America rated Baez as the best pure high school hitter in the draft, and he played in five games in the organization after signing in mid-August.
Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next installment of Smokies on the Move as we profile infielder Ryan Flaherty, and also check out Monday’s feature on Andrew Cashner.