Pittsburgh Pirates top prospect Nick Gonzales followed up his strong 2021 season with a solid 2022 campaign, giving him a bright outlook for 2023.
The Pittsburgh Pirates used the seventh overall pick in the 2020 draft to select Nick Gonzales. In his professional debut in 2021, Gonzales was one of the best Pirate minor league hitters. The second baseman posted a .950 OPS, .405 wOBA, and 150 wRC+ through 369 plate appearances. Gonzales had high expectations, both from being an early first-round pick and his phenomenal performance in 2021, so how did he do at Double-A Altoona this season?
Gonzales certainly wasn’t terrible, but he fell short of his 2021 numbers. In total, he slashed .262/.383/.429 with a .365 wOBA and 127 wRC+. Gonzales hit seven home runs in 316 trips to the dish, drawing a walk at a 13.6% rate. The downside is that he also struck out 28.5% of the time, which is 1.1% more often than he struck out in 2021.
But Gonzales faced some injuries throughout the season. He missed all of June and July but returned for the home stretch in August. He had also started picking things up when he landed on the injured list. From May 14th through the end of the season, in his final 211 plate appearances of 2022, Gonzales returned to his 2021 form, batting .302/.402/.512 with a .405 wOBA and 153 wRC+. He still walked at a healthy 13.3% rate but cut his strikeout rate down to 23.7%. That still may not be the best in the league, but a significant improvement from when he struck out 37.1% of the time from the start of the season through May 12th.
Another positive is that Gonzales cut his strikeout rate down post-injury. He struck out at a 22.7% rate from the start of August through the end of the season, with a 21.5% strikeout rate throughout the month of September. That’s a major step forward and shows that he’s getting better. The injuries certainly haven’t helped him cut his strikeout rate down, but he seems to know how to improve his game.
Gonzales is considered a solid defensive second baseman but saw a handful of innings at shortstop this year. He played shortstop for 115.1 innings, but he’ll probably not see much action at short in the major leagues with Oneil Cruz locked down at the position. He’s also more than fast enough to play up the middle, so range is not a significant issue.
Next year will be Gonzales’ age-24 season, which is a bit old for a top prospect, but you have to remember the Pirates did lose a chance to see him in action in 2020. Gonzales should be one of the Pirates’ first promotions once his service time date passes. That gives him more than enough time to see what he can do at Triple-A before getting him to the major leagues and lets him take over at the keystone full-time.