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Indians trade Erik Gonzalez to Pirates as part of five-player deal

A few players who were once highly-regarded prospects change teams in the biggest trade of this offseason thus far.

MLB: Cleveland Indians at Texas Rangers Photo by Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

The Indians and Pirates completed the biggest trade of this offseason thus far on Wednesday, with Cleveland sending utility infielder Erik Gonzalez and right-handed pitching prospects Tahnaj Thomas and Dante Mendoza to Pittsburgh in exchange for infielder Max Moroff and outfielder Jordan Luplow.

Gonzalez was a rather highly-regarded shortstop prospect, but fell into the somewhat unfortunate role of being the third-best shortstop in an organization that also included Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez. He topped out as the No. 8-ranked prospect in Cleveland’s system by MLB Pipeline in both 2014 and ‘16. Though his playing time has been sparse, Gonzalez has found a way to make an impact as a contact hitter and versatile fielder for the Indians, hitting .263 with a .292 OBP in 275 MLB plate appearances while appearing at every position except pitcher, catcher, and center field. He’s not much of a power hitter, however, having posted a .389 slugging percentage with just 22 extra-base hits, including five homers, over his big-league career. With the Pirates likely to move on from their 2018 middle-infield duo, Josh Harrison and Jordy Mercer, Gonzalez should at least serve as an experienced bench option next year for the Pirates.

Thomas, a 19-year-old Bahamian native, is the definition of a lottery ticket, having posted a 5.28 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP over 24 games (19 starts) in two seasons between the Dominican Summer League and Arizona Rookie League. The 19-year-old Mendoza, a 2017 12th-rounder who is a cousin of Zach Britton, is very similar to Thomas, having posted a 4.69 ERA and 1.49 WHIP in 13 games (five starts) over two years in the AZL.

Moroff, a 16th-round pick by the Pirates in 2012, topped out as Pittsburgh’s No. 19 prospect (as ranked by MLB Pipeline) in 2016. The switch-hitter has struggled at the major-league level, hitting .193/.293/.331 with six homers in 209 plate appearances while playing second base, third base, and shortstop. He has shown some decent power for a middle infielder at the minor-league level, though, hitting 13 homers and slugging .519 over 228 PAs at Triple-A Indianapolis in 2017. He clearly had fallen out of favor in Pittsburgh as of late, though; he didn’t get called up when rosters expanded in September, while young middle infielders Kevin Newman, Kevin Kramer, and Adam Frazier received extended opportunities instead. Like Gonzalez, he’s out of minor-league options next spring, so he’ll be fighting for his 40-man roster life in the Cactus League.

Luplow, 25, has struggled at the major-league level, but he still has enough upside that he might be able to improve the Indians’ currently disastrous outfield mix. Through 190 big-league plate appearances over two seasons, Luplow has a .194/.274/.371 slash line with six homers. As referenced in the tweet above, Luplow was Pittsburgh’s minor-league player of the year in 2017, and our friends at Minor League Ball ranked him as the organization’s No. 18 prospect entering 2018.