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Monday, December 5, 2022

Why is Nick Gonzales Struggling to Make Contact?

ALTOONA, Pa. – We might be starting to finally see the real Nick Gonzales.

Two years after being drafted by the Pirates with the seventh overall pick, Gonzales is making his way back from his latest injury.

This time, his plantar fascia was torn in half, after coming down wrong on the first base bag.

Last year, he dealt with a broken pinky.

The injuries aren’t in a nature that would make Gonzales “injury prone”. They have prevented him from developing his game.

“I want to play more than 40 games at a time,” Gonzales said.

Prior to the injury this year, Gonzales was starting to make some adjustments with his swing. Originally drafted due to his strong ability to make contact, Gonzales opened the season in Altoona hitting for a low average, with a high strikeout rate.

“We definitely made adjustments, and we were looking at a lot of video,” said Gonzales of the time before the injury. “Some stuff that showed up this season that didn’t really show up all of my life.”

A big issue was that Gonzales wasn’t keeping his bat through the zone long enough. He has one of the quickest bats I’ve ever seen, and his hand-eye skills give him the ability to make contact. Gonzales has the tendency to dip his bat in and out of the zone quickly, which has brought on the contact issues.

“That’s definitely what it was,” said Gonzales. “That’s why I was hitting the ball to right field really good, but nothing to the pull side. Missing pitches I should hit, and fouling off pitches I should do damage with, and swinging and missing at stuff I should fight off or at least put in play.”

Gonzales noted that the stuff he’s faced this year is no different than what he saw last year, or what he faced in the Arizona Fall League. The pitchers at the Double-A level are more precise, and can throw three pitches for strikes. That shouldn’t be an issue for a first rounder who was drafted on contact skills.

Part of the adjustment the Pirates are making with Gonzales has to do with his zone of attack.

“He’s a type of guy who always used right-center field really well,” said Altoona hitting coach Jon Nunnally. “I said get used to use the middle of the field to go right-center. Even left-side of the batter’s eye. Take the left-eye of the batter’s eye, and you hunt and drive things through there, and you may get something that you can drive into left-center.”

Gonzales has a tendency to uppercut his swing, which leads to him swinging over breaking pitches that drop out of the zone.

Gonzales is seeing how pitchers are attacking him differently, using the same stuff and more consistency. The Pirates want him making sure that his swing is still efficient, and can do damage. That might involve consistently getting more extension with his arms. The photo above is from when Gonzales hit a double. You can see that his arms are more extended out, continuing his swing path, as compared to the quick upper cut in the video above.

The video is recent, and Gonzales still has a tendency to swing over breaking pitches. He has been adjusting to this, and showing more promising results. Since returning from his injury, Gonzales is hitting .333/.436/.515. Those are the types of numbers you’d expect to see from the first rounder. We may just not have seen him get enough time to develop, due to the injuries.

“I don’t think I’ve played a consistent amount of games,” said Gonzales. “I’m really excited to just play 140 games in one year, and making my adjustments.”

The ability that made him a first rounder is still there. What we’re seeing now might be a sign that those abilities are starting to develop into Major League abilities.

“He’s got some quick hands. He’s going to be special,” said Nunnally. “That’s the whole key in trying to get him working through the baseball, instead of in and out of the zone, especially with offspeed pitches.”

THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

Williams: Exquisite Corpse

Endy Rodriguez is Looking Like the Best Prospect in the Pirates System

Liover Peguero Needs to Control His Talent

Jon Nunnally Discusses the Hitting Development Approach in Altoona

Why is Nick Gonzales Struggling to Make Contact?

Blake Sabol: A Prospect Development Story

Aaron Shackelford: “It’s definitely been a growing season, mentally”

+ posts

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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1979andCounting

This was not a great day to do this article drop, when we are watching Grissom and Harris (21 yr olds) raking at the MLB level, while our #1 draft pick 2 years ago is struggling with swing flaws at AA. No, just not in the mood for this right now.

adicesa14

I was thinking exactly the same thing. Perhaps we’re paranoid!

roberto

Great series.

PirateRican21

I’m still a believer and expect him to have a monster year next year.

ricramer

Can he repeat the AFL?

leefieux

Will he be encouraged to go to winter ball?

robertkasperski

That would be good if he can get some playing time this winter. The good news is it seems that he does have the ability to recognize issues and has made adjustments. The ability to adjust is necessary in the majors as the pitchers will definitely adjust to how they are pitching you. Oneil will tell him so. At least it sounds like Oneil is working on his own issues. Hope he figures it out sooner than later or his sake

Anthony

It doesn’t look like Cruz is working on his issues lol

robertkasperski

He has been said to be taking a lot of extra BP. That is only part of it. 1st time in the Bigs and pitchers do know how to sequence their pitches and it takes experience on the hitter’s part to be able to recognize pitches and to adjust to how he is being pitched. As I said, I hope he starts figuring things out sooner than later.

AdministrativeSky236

Hopefully he’s using pitching machines to spin him high level offspeed pitches in sequence or something to similar to simulate real game scenarios

robertkasperski

I am sure he is. I remember one of the fine writers here writing about the use of said equipment back in spring training. Will take him some time if he does it right. Has to not only learn to recognize the pitches quicker but also has to experience how pitchers sequence pitches in game situations to set up the at bat. Most all if not all big league pitchers will do that. In the Minors, less do that, especially in the lower levels where most of his experience is. I also remember reading either here or hearing on a post game show where he has to get out the habit of assuming that he can make good contact with most any pitch that is thrown to him. Whoever was giving the analysis said that he got into that bad habit in the minors and he pretty much could do that as he was working through the minors. Pitchers are much better in the Bigs with the ability to put more spin on the ball and therefore more movement on the pitch. He is learning how much harder it is to get to many of the pitches.

Anthony

No offense, I just hear a bunch of excuses as to why he needs to be doing this in the show. I don’t buy it, this aspect of development isn’t exclusive to the MLB only. The dude has issues, and he has just put out a ton of bad tape for all to see. This will make any adjustments that much more harder to fix. Bottom line, he wasn’t/ isn’t ready.

Last edited 3 months ago by Anthony
adicesa14

I’m wanting to be optimistic, but you might be right. This episode is reminding me of Gregory Polanco who probably wasn’t ready either. It would be a shame if that’s the way the Cruz situation plays out.

robertkasperski

Depends upon the issue. If his biggest issue is learning to hit the more talented MLB it makes no sense to put him back in AAA where he was hitting well before his promotion. Just like pitchers who can light up the minors because of either stuff or velocity but does not know how to “pitch” to get MLB hitters out can’t really learn how to get MLB hitters out by facing AAA guys who are not as good as the MLB hitters. I would probably feel different if the Bucs were in position compete right now and he was killing the team but since they are not competing why not let him learn what he needs to learn by facing MLB pitchers daily? He has to learn to adjust to MLB pitching.

Anthony

The development staff should be tuned in enough to spot these weaknesses beforehand, that IS their job. Just looking at minor league stats is a form of “resulting” and a good process does not rely on this approach. You either have a third pitch or you don’t, you can either hit a back foot slider or you can’t.

robertkasperski

Good traits to have, Guys like that seem to be able to get the most out of whatever ability that they possess if they can stay healthy enough. Will be interesting to watch how he progresses between now and mid season next year.

AdministrativeSky236

I agree, I really love to hear this. Clearly all these guys are talented, but a strong makeup like this can be the difference between the MLB and AAA imo. He and hank both seem to have this trait, so I have no doubt if their problems are something to be worked through, then they will do it

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