Pirates Prospects Daily: The Continued Evolution Of Nick Gonzales

It’s been an interesting couple of years for Nick Gonzales.

Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the first round in 2020, injuries have limited him to 151 non-rehab games over the past two seasons. He has sometimes looked like a completely different player than originally thought coming out of college.

Scouts can watch a player for hours on end, but it’s far from a perfect science when it comes to that player reaching the professional ranks. Once a player starts pro ball, they can take on a completely different approach as they look to work their way through the minor leagues.

Sometimes what worked for them in high school/college doesn’t work once they hit the pro ranks, so they have to adjust and adapt.

Gonzales was one of the top college hitters available in the 2020 draft, putting up some eye-popping numbers, not only with New Mexico State, but also in his time in the Cape Cod League.

Most scouts believed he would carry that plus hitting ability to the next level, with mostly average power. While he played shortstop in college, the consensus was he’d switch over to second base after turning pro, putting more emphasis on the bat.

Now two full seasons in the Pirates system, Gonzales has flashed a bit more power than maybe some expected, while struggling a little with making contact.

He has now struck out 27.9% of the time in his two years in the minors, but improved his walk rate up to 13.6% this past year with Altoona. 

The strikeout issue stems mostly from some swing and miss issues that have taken place, mostly due to breaking pitches. His 16.3% swinging strike rate over the past two years is the sixth highest mark in the Pirates system of all players with at least 500 plate appearances in that span.

What kind of player Gonzales is going to be at the next level is still anyone’s guess. He’s shown more power than maybe was expected, so now it will come down to trying to solve his swing and miss issues.

Gonzales spent 14 games at shortstop in Altoona this past year, and extended his range to third base while playing in the Arizona Fall League. The added versatility could help him find a home easier than being 100% reliant on the bat, even if that is what made him a first rounder.

There’s still potential with the bat, he still finished with a 127 wRC+ in Double-A, it’s just a matter of continually to find the approach that best fits him.

Highlight of the Day

Pirates Prospects Daily

By Tim Williams

**My prediction is that Nick Gonzales is the starting second baseman in Pittsburgh by the end of the 2023 season. I think he’s already started to turn around the swing-and-miss issues, which I detailed last August.

**In my return to First Pitch, I looked at how the Pirates have added veteran leaders who can play.

**John Dreker has the bonus information for five international signings, including Jun-Seok Shim.

**The Pirates have hired Blake Crosby, brother of Bobby Crosby, to serve as a special assignment scout.

**Sammy Siani is the latest Pirates prospect to have a big day in winter ball in Australia. John Dreker has the recap in the latest Pirates winter league update.

**Missed yesterday? Anthony broke down the aggressive first day for the Pirates in the 2023 international market.

Song of the Day

Pirates Prospects Weekly

I took a few weeks off to start the year. Literally one day after returning last week, the Pirates added Andrew McCutchen.

My original plan for First Pitch was to detail the plans for Pirates Prospects in 2023. I pushed that back to next week, which is actually the site’s 14th anniversary.

This week, I looked at the impact that McCutchen, Carlos Santana, Rich Hill, and Austin Hedges could have on the Pirates in 2023.

First Pitch: The Pirates Have Added Veteran Leaders Who Can Play

We’ll have our first article drop of the year tomorrow at noon, with articles from John Dreker, Wilbur Miller, and Anthony Murphy.

Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.

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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emjayinTN

Hard to understand the basis of predicting Gonzales will be the starting 2B by the end of 2023, unless both Castro and Bae are traded. Both Bae and Castro played equal to or better than Gonzales on both offense and defense in 2022 and they were in AAA while Gonzales was in AA.

After being promoted to MLB Castro put up a 0.9 fWAR and Bae, in a much smaller number of major league games, posted a 0.2 fWAR. Both Castro and Bae are legitimate multi-positional players – Gonzales is also, but has not shown the defensive numbers to match the other two. Bae also gives the CF option and is a strong base stealer. All projections from the experts are that the changes in pitch times will promote more stolen bases – nice to have that tool in the bag.

If I thought that anyone was going to push Bae or Castro out, my best pick to do that would be Jared Triolo – a GG at 3B and batted a lot at leadoff because of his high OBP and the ability to steal bases.

NMR

What’s fascinating about the scouting take is that they’ve been consistently wrong about this type of hitter. Think of all the player and swing comps Nick gets, none of them are plus hit dudes. we’ll maybe Mike Trout but that’s cheating.

That swing just is not a plus-hit swing in the show. It’s bred more for power, which is what you see with Keston Hiura. Put Gonzales in yankee stadium and he’ll hit 30 every year. How far the power plays elsewhere will be the big question.

Danatural08

Agree with Tim’s prediction on Nick being the starting 2nd baseman by the end of 2023. There hasn’t been many prospects in recent years that I’m more excited about than Nick G. I’ve never been concerned that he won’t have success as a MLB player, i just hope his best years are with the Bucs.

leefieux

If he doesn’t improve those K stats and if he can’t hit a AA curve ball, it doesn’t bode well for his MLB future. I hope he DOES resolve his K issues. And, I am not one who likes to use his injuries as an excuse. Either you can hit the curve or ou start looking for another job.

In my OOTP league (2024 now) Bae is our starting 2b man and Nicky The K is still trying to get out of Altoona. He is K’ing 30%.

PirateRican21

I really want to like Bae, but that style of hitting is one I can’t stand and I don’t see anything more than a Newman who doesn’t have the arm for SS….of course I’m hoping I’m wrong!

Anthony

I don’t like the way he hits either, but the dude can get on base, swipe a bag, and play multiple positions. He’s the type of guy that keeps the defense on their toes; he scrappy and the intangibles are extremely underrated. He’s the kind of player you love to play with and hate to play against.

melkel

I agree, but Bae has shown the ability to draw a walk and to use his speed. Definitely need a longer look but if he can keep a good OBA he can be an above average regular.

leefieux

We could use a good leadoff hitter like Bae. I am very bullish on him, whether at 2b or CF. There’s a reason the Braves gave him a million bucks.

melkel

I could see a platoon at second with Castro, and play CF when a lefty is on the mound if Reynolds is traded and they want to give Swaggerty a chance against RHP’s.

tventimiglio

I’m betting he figures things out. His K rates arent great but they arent terrible either. I dont understand why folks scream for Suwinski who has much worse K rates and lower OBP yet are so critical of Gonzales.

leefieux

If I lived near you, I would take that bet. But then I don’t gamble, either, so……🤓🤓🤓🤓

Anthony

Gonzales was still a top ten hitter in AA despite these concerns. He can get on base, and this will help to offset the impact of a higher k-rate.

tventimiglio

Yeah, I’m not a gambler either. Just an expression.

bradlej31

Nick G had the 5th highest OBP of any Curve player since 2006 (min 150 ABs). Think taking 3rd strike might be a problem.

His 127 RC+ had the 28th highest RC+ in last 16 years for Curve… and at 23 years old. Ahead of many good pirates (Bell 122 Cutch 101 Walker 112 etc)

Last edited 14 days ago by bradlej31
leefieux

But he can’t hit a Curve (pun intended). I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of low contact hitters who tore up AA but were exposed in the majors. He is just another one of many. Those who can’t hit curves end up selling insurance.

Last edited 14 days ago by leefieux
Cobra

Wow – eye-popping stats. Did not know this

chuck_conner

I’m not worried about, Nick. He has too much bat speed to not hit. I’m worried where is he going to play when Johnson comes up in 2025. Yes, he is that good. There is going to be some really good players being traded, but that’s a good thing. Big trade to get a front line pitcher or game changing position player.

bradlej31

I think many teams would have him as their future SS. We kinda have to keep O’Neill there. Nick will never have a day off but he might play every position outside of catcher and CF before it’s done.

PirateRican21

He hasn’t made it easy, but he’s still my favorite prospect in our system. Hoping he becomes a .280 20 HR 35 2b with above average D at 2nd as soon as next year!

b mcferren

Nick Gonzalez is the first true test of BC´s ability to acquire, develop and deploy

1979andCounting

I’ve been watching Pegeuro as the first true test, was BC’s first trade here. It’s not good so far. His bat with Altoona produced just under .700 ops, very mediocre. And his defense is horrendous, 23 errors at SS. He throws from multiple arm slots, and consistency is lacking.

Zack

These next two seasons for Gonzales might reveal what the changes in approach and development in the minors under BC’s program can do. Gonzales seems to be a player that has been more deliberately focusing on evolving as a hitter versus looking for gaudy stats. Just my perception…

sewer2001

Injury has played a big enough role that I am withholding judgement. 140 and 127 WRC+ in his two longer stints is promising.

mpg43952

So many guys in our system, you just wish for a healthy year.

skliesen

Definitely don’t want our top draft picks to be labeled as “injury prone. And I also recognize the need for players like Nick G and Tank to meet expectations when they are pencilled into the lineup.

Good health is just a start. Strong performance is just as important.

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