Pittsburgh Pirates: Nick Gonzales Should Be A Fast Rising Prospect

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2020 first-round pick Nick Gonzales should be a fast rising prospect in the Pittsburgh Pirates farm system the next two seasons

The Pittsburgh Pirates selected one of, if not the best pure hitter in the draft last season when they took infielder Nick Gonzales with the 7th overall selection. The Bucs were also able to get a good deal on him. FanGraphs projected him to go with the 6th pick while MLB Pipeline projected him at 5th overall.

Gonzales put up Barry Bonds-like numbers with a .399/.502/.747 slash line, 37 home runs, 39 doubles and a .510 wOBA in 596 plate appearances during his collegiate career at New Mexico State. This also came with an outstanding 14.9% walk rate and an even lower strikeout rate of 13.3%. He drew ball four 10 more times than he went down on strike three.

There was some concern about his ability to play outside of such a hitter friendly environment, but he put many of those questions to rest at the ultra-competitive Cape Cod League. Through 190 PAs in the Cape Cod League the second baseman hit .340/.439/.610 with a .400 wOBA. Of his 54 hits, 25 went for extra bases including 7 home runs and 14 doubles. Across 600 plate appearances, that comes out to 22 home runs and 44 doubles, which is what many think his overall power outlook will look like. While he struck out more than he walked, he still had a strong 10.5% walk rate and outstanding 13.2% strikeout rate.

The one concern with Gonzales was his fielding. When the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted him he was considered an average overall fielder with an arm on the weaker side. There was also concern with his ability to make more rangey plays. While he saw time at shortstop in his final season at college, he mainly played the keystone throughout most of his college career and it’s likely his long term home.

However, he’s made strides in an attempt to improve his defense. During the offseason and at instructionals Gonzales worked with former Pirate shortstop Jack Wilson. There’s very few middle infielders in Pirate history who are more qualified to teach defense than Wilson. Since defensive runs saved started to be tracked in 2003, he’s one of just 21 players all time to have more than 100 DRS with +116. He is also ranked in the top 50 all time in dWAR with a 21 mark.

Right now, Gonzales ranks as a consensus top 50 prospect in all of baseball. MLB Pipeline ranks him #43, Baseball Prospectus has him at #39 and Baseball America places him at #51. The only major prospect source that doesn’t have him near the top 50 is FanGraphs, who has him at #85, but they’ve been harsher on 2020 draft picks as only three rank in their top 50.

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2021 will be Gonzales’s age-22 season. He’ll start the season out at 21 and turn 22 in late May. Given his age and advanced hitting ability and plate discipline, he could easily start the year at Low-A and possibly end the season at Double-A. It’s very likely he’ll be in the majors before the end of the 2022 season. Obviously, he shouldn’t be rushed, but as long as he remains healthy and performs anything like he’s expected to, he should quickly make his way through the minors, even more so if his defense improves over the next year.