Pittsburgh Pirates Prospects: Nick Gonzales Slugging at High-A


Pittsburgh Pirates 2020 first-round pick Nick Gonzales is slugging his way through High-A pitching with Greensboro

With the 7th overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft the Pittsburgh Pirates selected arguably the best college hitter available in the draft. This hitter was New Mexico State University middle infielder Nick Gonzales.

Coming out of college Gonzales was viewed as an advanced hitter who could climb through the minor league system quickly for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Thus far in his professional career, Gonzales has done nothing but hit. By doing nothing but hitting Gonzales has made the predictions that he could climb through the minor leagues quickly look accurate.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic cancelling the 2020 minor league season, Gonzales was unable to play in any professional games last season. Instead, he spent his time after being draft working out at the alternate training site in Altoona for the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Gonzales turned heads during his time in Altoona and quickly made a strong impression with Pirate brass. With his performance at the alternate training site Gonzales earned an invite to MLB camp this past spring.

In Spring Training and Grapefruit League, once again, Gonzales found himself turning heads. Playing both shortstop and second base in Grapefruit League games Gonzales had just 15 plate appearances. While he collected just 3 hits in these 15 PAs, one hit was a double while another was a home run. He also drew a walk and drove in 3 runs.

This season Gonzales has played in 23 games with the High-A Greensboro Grasshopper. While he missed over a month of action due to a finger injury, Gonzales has still accumulated the first 103 plate appearances of his professional career. Entering play on Friday, Gonzales was hitting for a .250/.330/.511 slash line in these 103 PAs.

The most impressive stat from Gonzales thus far this season has been his power. His .511 slugging percentage is well above league average, as is his .261 isolated slugging (ISO) and 12.6% extra base hit rate.

The big power numbers from Gonzales have been great to see. When the Pittsburgh Pirates drafted Gonzales the lone concern with his offense was the concern that his power may not develop. While, obviously, 103 PAs is a small sample size, the early returns indicate that power will not be an issue for Gonzales.

On the season Gonzales has a healthy 128 wRC+. This indicates that Gonzales has been 28% better than a league average hitter. While his 30.1% strikeout rate is a number you would like to see come down by at least 5-6%, as well as being a surprising one due to his reputation as a hitter who does not swing-and-miss very often, Gonzales does own a 9.7% walk rate this season. Any time a hitter’s walk rate starts to approach 10% it is in good shape.

Another positive sign from Gonzales has been his defense. After playing shortstop in college Gonzales projected to be a plus defensive second basemen in the Majors. This has not made the strong defense from Gonzales a surprise but it is still encouraging to see.

All 193.2 innings that Gonzales has played in the field this season have come as a second baseman. In these 193.2 innings logged at second base this season Gonzales has not committed an error. While errors to not tell the entire story for a player’s defense, or anywhere close to it, no errors is still always a great thing to season.

Gonzales is slugging his way through High-A pitching. With Gonzales being viewed as an advanced college hitter coming out of the draft, he could continue to climb through the farm system quickly for the Pittsburgh Pirates. After all, it was an aggressive move by Ben Cherington to have Gonzales star the season at High-A with zero professional at-bats under his belt.

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If Gonzales continues to play plus defense, draw walks at an above average rate and hit for plus power, he could find himself to Double-A Altoona by the end of the season. To be honest, without his finger injury Gonzales could already be at Double-A or at least on the doorstep. If Gonzales can get to Double-A by the end of the season, a late 2022 MLB debut is not out of the realm of possibility. Regardless of when he arrives, all signs point toward Gonzales being the second baseman of the future for the Pittsburgh Pirates.