Nick Gonzales Interview: From Summer Ball To The Fall League
One of the many joys of scouting players in person is that anything can happen on any given day at the ballpark. Fireworks to fisticuffs, it’s all in the realm of possibility. The ultimate goal, however, is to find a player with the ability to translate tools to the next level. This is only magnified when working the amateur circuit, where “going in blind” or having very little knowledge of a player can often be as much of a benefit as it is a challenge.
In my own novice adventures over the years working the Cape Cod League I’ve had the opportunity to see many players build reputations through strong play. None, however, can match that of Nick Gonzales’ 2019 campaign. From end to end Gonzales dominated, winning the league’s top prospect award and leading Cotuit to its 17th Cape Cod League crown.
RELATED: See where Gonzales ranks in our new 2022 Pirates rankings
As Cotuit assistant GM Peter Flaherty—now with the New York Yankees—put it, “From the second Nick arrived in 2019, it was clear that he was a man on a mission. The pressure was on to prove to everyone that he could hit against the highest level pitching in the country. And did he ever.”
The player himself stood out on and off the field. Gonzales is gifted with special hands that are both lighting fast while also loose, and he’s able to make adjustments even when he’s fooled. His quick-twitch mechanism at the plate generates easy, plus bat speed, which coupled with his tight launch angle variance allows his power to play above his stature.
Beyond the batter’s box Gonzales shined, showing great baseball IQ and awareness on the basepaths and in the field. While Gonzales is at times limited as a defender, he shows an awareness of his positioning and possesses a strong internal clock.
Tireless work ethic gets thrown around frequently in the world of professional sports, and with good reason. Professional athletes need to hone their craft to play among the best in their given sport. Some players, however, do stand above the rest. Gonzales showed a professional mentality throughout his pregame work, setting the tone for a Cotuit team known for its disciplined approach and play under long-time manager Mike Roberts.
Heading into the 2020 season, few players had more buzz surrounding them. He started out the spring scolding hot, slashing .448/.610/1.155 with 12 home runs across 16 games. Then, like every 2020 tale, the world came to a halt, and just like that Gonzales’ storied amateur career came to an end. Storied is not hyperbole, either. Across 128 career games at the collegiate level Gonzales slashed .399/.502/.747 with 37 home runs, 152 RBIs and 148 runs.
What followed were the most trying and arduous 18 months of Gonzales’ life. I caught up with Nick during the Arizona Fall League’s annual Fall Stars game. We chatted about his 2020, the successes of 2021, his first injury, his swing and his stops in Cotuit, Greensboro and Peoria.
Interview is edited lightly for brevity.
Geoff: How did you deal with the shutdown? What sort of stuff were you working on to stay sharp over that period?
Nick: Yeah, for me I was just trying to play it as if I was still preparing for a game, because we didn't really didn't know what was gonna happen or what to expect. We didn't know if we're going to play in a month or playing in a year. Ultimately we ended up having to wait almost a whole year. So I just kind of took it as that and obviously you can't get the game reps that you would get during a season or during a practice during a season so you kind of just try to stay fresh and keep sharp. Get your swing right and take ground balls so whenever they call you're ready.
Geoff: Were you facing live pitching over that period? Any teammates back home in New Mexico?
Nick: Yeah, I was in New Mexico for a few months and the pitchers that were still there we would face them and play against them. But for the most part all of our guys were older and they're like "Hey, I don't know if I'm even playing anymore after this." So we didn't really face much live after I think maybe like two or three sessions of live BP and then after that it was pretty much just, you know, cage work and the weight room.
Geoff: When do you finally face live pitching again? Was it the alternate site or instructs?
Nick: Alternate site is when I first got some live rep stuff or in-game-like situation. Definitely was eye opening facing those arms, seeing really good stuff. You know, guys you're up against are coming in with big league experience, plus Double-A and Triple-A guys.
Geoff: I got to witness your Cape breakout first hand. You had the opportunity to work with coach Mike Roberts, obviously a legend out there. What sort of stuff did you take away from that league? And that experience?
Nick: I think it was definitely, you know, mental. Just realize that you can go out there and play with those guys and compete with all the top players from across the country and college baseball at the time, because obviously there were questions about me and everything, not having played the best competition in the country in college, and being at a hitter's ballpark in New Mexico. So, you know, there were definitely questions that I needed answered also. Obviously, you believe in yourself and everything, but you know, you still have to answer those questions. So that was good. And then also, being under Coach Roberts, like you said, was amazing. He was 70 years old and did everything we did. So it's like, I can't complain about being tired ever. He's still throwing BP man, throwing in the sun and the heat, so I can't complain about being hot or anything like that.
Geoff: So take me through it a little bit. You had a good debut. What sort of stuff do you have to get acclimated to? Off the field or on the field, what was different between this versus prior experiences?
Nick: Yeah, I think it's different, playing every day and having never played every day, at least since summer ball, because in college you play a few games a week. In pro ball you have got to get used to the travel a little bit. It can be a little tough sometimes, especially over there in the east travel gets a little tough. Just getting situated with new teammates, new guys, new coaches, and then obviously, the competition is also the best thing you've ever seen. So you got to get used to that too, and making adjustments. But I think it went well and definitely learned a lot—then having an injury to deal with and it being my first time having one.
Geoff: Your whole career?
Nick: Yeah, whole career. I didn't miss one game in college.
Geoff: How many games did you end up missing this year?
Nick: I only played 80. So 40, there were 40 games that I could have played, or that that I was not able to play in. Rehab, it was pretty slow and meticulous. It was my pinkie. I had a broken pinky finger. So I really couldn't do anything. So you just focus on rehabbing and taking care of it. Then when you get back to your swing, you get it right and get ready for live pitching and getting back out there. So it was fine.
Geoff: In terms of adjusting your approach. I noticed, just looking at the numbers, I always considered you a hit tool over power hitter. There was obviously always power, but the power numbers were great this year. Was that on purpose? Or is it just the pitching that you were seeing? The park?
Nick: It was just the way it kind of worked, the cards fell in the right place. I really didn't try to hit more homers. I wasn't going into the season or anything focused on that. But I think I definitely was trying to do damage a lot instead of just hitting the ball and getting the barrel on it like I used to do. I think that's also why strikeouts were up, for sure. For me, I think I was trying to always crush the ball instead of just trusting myself and my hands. I think that's where the power came from. Also, we were playing in a nice hitters’s ballpark. So that helps.
Geoff: What sort of stuff are you working on out here in AFL?
Nick: Out here, I think I'm just kind of getting a smooth swing back and just being real fluid and smooth. I'm working on the two-strike approach and just working on barreling the ball consistently, all the time. Just try not to chase, stay within my approach and really focus on that. And it's been going good!
Geoff: What are the goals for 2022 as a player?
Nick: I’m not sure. Yeah, I never really set any goals, any statistical goals, or anything like that. I kind of just go out and try to have fun and make the adjustments. I think if you worry about it too much it can get to you a little bit. I pride myself on just being real simple with everything. I don't like to think about the swing too much. I know when I hit it good. Also, defensively, I want to get better at it always and improve there every day. Most importantly, just go out and have fun.
Geoff: At the risk of making you think about the swing too much, take us through the swing. What sort of stuff are you working on? How do you engage your lower half? How do the hands move?
Nick: I just try to be as balanced as possible when I'm about to start my swing and just make sure you can see the ball all the way in. Because if your head's moving, your eyes are moving. That makes it really tough to see the ball and put a good swing on it. So trying to be as balanced as possible. And then just, I don't know, I was gifted. I just kind of let the hands go and whatever happens. I definitely incorporate the legs in there a little bit but I got more of a handsy swing. So I kind of just let them work and definitely want to try to hit the ball all fields. Right field, left field, try to drive it all over.