4-13-23 By Craig W. Toth (aka @BucsBasement on Twitter)
As soon as Oneil Cruz was helped off the field-and in some cases even before then-rumblings of wanting Nick Gonzales on the Major League Roster, sooner rather than later, began to circulate Pirates Fan Social Media; especially since he received the promotion to Triple-A Indianapolis, with the intention of giving him regular playing time at second base.
Over the past two seasons, Gonzales has missed significant playing time. In 2021 it was due to a broken his pinky in Greensboro, followed by a torn plantar fascia in his heal while with the Curve.
In spite of these injuries, he was able to slash .285/.384/.506 with a 139 wRC+, 25 homers and 75 total extra base hits across 696 plate appearances.
As I have mentioned before-as recent as last week-I am not extremely concerned about what Gonzales is able to do when he makes contact with the ball. It’s always been the strikeouts that worry me.
This far in his professional career has a K-rate that is creeping towards 30%. If he was a pure power hitter I wouldn’t be as concerned, thanks to a BB-rate that is consistently over 10%. But, he’s not a power hitter.
Prior to the 2020 MLB Draft, scouts saw his strength as having a short/compact swing with a ton of bat speed, that could move through the strike-zone due his control. At the time they also questioned his power due him hitting inside the friendly confines of Presley Askew Field at New Mexico State; often drawing comps to the recently DFA’d Keston Hiura of the Brewers.
Since being selected by the Pirates at 7th in the 1st Round-a pick that was described as fortunate due to him being ranked higher in the majority of publications-this comp has continued to be utilized; adding in ones to Carter Kieboom and Jeter Downs. Of the three, the last one is the most telling as it deals with both players propensity to swing under upper-zone fastballs, and guess on breaking balls.
As a contact hitter with a decent amount of pop, these aren’t the connections you want people to be making concerning your approach at the plate. Yet, that isn’t even as bad as things get.
When you move away from comps, and begin to look at actual statistics, the apprehension level continues to increase.
Last year in Double-A Altoona, Gonzales had a 68% Z-contact% (Zone Contact Percentage). For reference, back in 2021 the league average was 84.6% among qualified hitters; and just last season only three batters-with 100 or more plate appearances were below 70%-Chris Morel, Brett Phillips and Eli White. Of the players listed only Morel had an above average wRC+ (108), while Phillips and White landed at 38 and 67 respectively.
Still, when the kid gets hot, it’s hard to get him out. Each of the last two seasons, Gonzales has finished strong after returning from injury; slashing .304/.388/.568 with a 158 wRC+ across his 312 plate appearances in Greensboro and .295/.409/.527 with a 154 wRC+ over the final month and change in Altoona.
This success has also transferred over to the Arizona Fall League after 2021 and 2022.
In 2021 he a 1.032 OPS in a Javelina’s uniform.
Then this last fall he posted an .851.
Unfortunately, it simply hasn’t transitioned into early season outcomes as of yet.
Sure, we can see the highlights if we scan Twitter for even a couple of seconds. However, it’s not like people are posting the strikeouts, or other plate appearances as well.
So far this season, Gonzales has 18 strike outs in only 44 plate appearances. That’s a clip of over 40.9%.
Will this improve?
Well, based on history it absolutely should. It is just going to take time.
Which is why there is no reason to rush the young man. Let him get settled in, start to hit one of his hot streaks, and then call him up.
The last thing we need is for him to come up, struggle and get sent back down.
Just be patient. If it’s going to happen, it will happen. There’s no reason to force it.
One thought on “Through The Prospect Porthole: Nick Gonzales”
I like NGon but also getting uncomfortable with the Ks. I’ve been surprised with that as I remember him being touted for quick hands and good hand to eye coordination. I always thought that would help him adjust. You’re right, it’s way to soon to call him up. He needs to get the Ks under 20% in AAA for a considerable period of time before moving up.