Pittsburgh Pirates fans need to be patient with Nick Gonzales, as he's been a slow starter at every level of baseball for three straight seasons now.
The Pittsburgh Pirates recently promoted one of their top prospects, Nick Gonzales. Gonzales was the team’s 2020 first-round pick, and while many are skeptical about the infielder, fans should be patient with Gonzales. He’s a slow starter at each level of the minor leagues and seemingly figures his way out eventually.
Let’s go back to 2021 for an example of what I mean. The 2021 minor league season was delayed by a month, starting in May rather than April. At the time, Gonzales was stationed with the High-A Greensboro Grasshoppers.
His first few months as a professional baseball player were not great. Up through mid-July, had a poor .214/.287/.419 triple-slash, .307 wOBA, and 88 wRC+. While he had a respectable 8.5% walk rate, he also struck out over a third of the time with a 34.1% strikeout rate.
But after that point, Gonzales went on an absolute tear that lasted throughout the end of the season. He was one of the best batters in minor league baseball in the second half, slashing .353/.438/.647 with a .458 wOBA and 183 wRC+, a near 100% increase in production. Gonzales upped his walk rate to 12.1%, but the major improvement was his strikeout rate down to just 23.8%, a decrease of over 10%.
Because of his phenomenal end to the 2021 season, many fans had high expectations for him going into 2022, and he disappointed throughout the first few months once again. By May 12th, he had a poor .196/.328/.299 slash with a .297 wOBA, and 82 wRC+. Once again, strikeouts were a massive issue. He was striking out even more often with a 37.1% strikeout, but at least had a 13.8% walk rate.
But once again, Gonzales seemed to figure his way around Double-A pitching. From that point forward, Gonzales batted .302/.402/.512 with a .405 wOBA and 152 wRC+. Again, Gonzales cut his strikeout rate down by over 10% to just 23.7% while keeping a constant 13.3% walk rate. Gonzales got even better with limiting strikeouts with a 20.7% strikeout rate through the last month of 2022. While he missed about two months of playing time, Gonzales seemingly figured his way out.
2023 looks like another Nick Gonzales-like season. Through May 28th, Gonzales had a wRC+ in the low-80s at 84, along with a mediocre .247/.329/.418 slash, and .331 wOBA. Strikeouts have been a massive issue, with a 31.7% strikeout rate, despite his above-average 9.6% walk rate. Almost on cue, Gonzales has figured things out about two months into the year.
Since May 29th, the infielder is batting .278/.442/.514 with a .427 wOBA, and 145 wRC+. He has a tremendous 20% walk rate but a much improved 23.2% strikeout rate. In the month of June, he has a 21.2% strikeout rate, making it the third time in a row he has cut his K% down by at least 10% in only a month. He’s hitting for power, getting on base, and walking at the highest rate of his career so far.
I understand that Pirates fans are getting extremely impatient with the 2023 season. I’d be lying if I said I was happy about their recent play, but if Gonzales struggles in his first few weeks, keep in mind that this is a very common occurrence for him before getting the pitchforks and torches out. For three straight seasons, he’s performed poorly in the first two months of the year before seemingly finding his groove and catching up to the next level of competition he’s been asked to face.