Pirates Prospect Nick Gonzales Hasn’t Changed, and That’s for the Better

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Nick Gonzales hasn’t changed much as a hitter since he was selected seventh overall out of New Mexico State University by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 2020 draft. That’s good news for a rebuilding Bucs club badly in need of some offensive oomph. The 22-year-old infielder logged a .399/.502/.747 slash line as a collegian, and while his numbers weren’t nearly as gaudy in his first professional season, he nonetheless continued to square up baseballs. Playing for the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers, Gonzales slashed .303/.385/.565 with 18 home runs in 369 plate appearances, and he followed that up with a 1.032 OPS in the Arizona Fall League.

Again, not much has changed.

“I’m mostly the same guy [mechanically],” Gonzales said prior to playing in last November’s Fall Stars Game. “I think my leg started lifting a little higher during the COVID summer, and it was kind of that way earlier in the season, but now it’s probably back to where it was during college. At least it’s pretty similar.”

Asked what caused the temporary tweak, Gonzales reasoned that it was a combination of three things: trying to time up pitchers who were throwing harder, looking to do a little more damage, and a lot of time spent in the cage. The last two aren’t mutually exclusive. As Gonzales put it, “In the cage, you’re basically just trying to hit the ball as hard as you can.”

The 2020 Academic All-American is nonetheless smart enough to know that excess effort rarely translates to the batter’s box. In his own words, “Once you get in there, you have to tell yourself that you don’t need to swing harder; if you just swing normal, the ball will go when you square it up.”

How often the Vail, Arizona native will leave the yard against big-league pitching is somewhat of a question mark. The majority of his 18 bombs last year came at a hitter-friendly home venue, and at a listed 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, he’s not exactly the burliest player on the field. Gonzales is built like the second baseman he is, with a “fairly level” bat path that’s geared more to line drives than it is to moon shots. Moreover, he’s not looking to catch pitches out front.

“I like to let the ball get deep and try to hit it the other way,” explained Gonzales. “For one thing, I’ve got really short arms. If I try to hit the ball out there… that’s tough for me to do.”

To this point, solving pitching has been anything but tough. Cumulatively, his collegiate and professional — AZL included — numbers add up to a .358/.456/.655 slash line, and his .399 batting average as a prep player was equal to that of his mark at New Mexico State. Gonzales hit .543 as a senior at Cienega High School before going on to capture Freshman All-American honors, then lead all NCAA hitters with a .432 average in 2019.

With the caveat that he was seemingly born to hit, just how has the prized prospect gone about honing his right-handed stroke?

“It all starts in the cage,” said Gonzales. “That’s where you learn your swing. You learn what you do right, and you learn what you’re doing when you do things wrong. So, I think you can learn on your own, but it’s also great being around guys who can hit. That helps you a ton. At the same time, you can hit with the best hitters in the world, and sometimes what they explain doesn’t make sense to you. Hitting is kind of something you’ve got to figure out on your own.”

Adhering to an if-it-ain’t-broke-don’t-fix-it approach, the sweet-swinging infielder has clearly been able to figure things out. Gonzales will enter the 2022 season No. 6 on our newly-released Pirates Top Prospects list.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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6 months ago

Watched Nick a lot in the summer of 2019 in the Cape league, leading Cotuit to the league championship. He is a very special player!