Pirates Help Nick Gonzales Get His Swing On Track
The future is looking bright for second baseman Nick Gonzales.
Drafted seventh overall in 2020 out of New Mexico State, Gonzales started in the Arizona Fall League's prospect showcase game. Gonzales went 1-for-2 with an RBI double for the National League in the Fall Stars Game.
Gonzales has been hit hard by freak injuries and has experienced contact issues in his young career. That continued in 2022 when he went down in May at Double-A Altoona after tearing the plantar fascia in the heel of his foot.
Prior to the injury, Gonzales made adjustments to his swing to make more contact. Upon returning to Double-A on Aug. 12, he hit .286/.408/.505 with 18 walks and 29 strikeouts in 28 games.
That marks the best stretch of plate discipline in Gonzales’ young pro career.
The Pirates had Gonzales focus on keeping his bat path through the zone longer. He has some of the quickest hands in the system, along with some of the best hand-eye coordination. The combination could sometimes lead to his bat quickly dipping in and out of the zone.
“For him, we just want to make the decision, 'I’ve got to make sure I can get to these pitches efficient as possible—still doing damage on them—but I can stay through them for a long time,' ” Altoona hitting coach Jon Nunnally said.
Gonzales uses right-center field well. Nunnally had him shifting his focus more to the middle of the field. The idea was that by shifting his focus, Gonzales would still have the natural tendency to hit balls to right-center, but might see more pitches to drive to left field.
“That’s why I was hitting the ball to right field really good, but nothing to the pull side,” Gonzales explained in August. “Missing pitches I should hit, and fouling off pitches I should do damage with, and swinging and missing at stuff I should fight off or at least put in play.”
The adjustment could put Gonzales in line to reach Pittsburgh by the end of 2023.
“He’s got some quick hands,” Nunnally said. “He’s going to be special.”
— Righthander Quinn Priester and catcher Henry Davis were both selected to the Fall Stars Game with Nick Gonzales. Priester was Pittsburgh's first-round pick in 2019, and Davis was the first overall pick in 2021. The Pirates are in a rebuild and should see both of these players, along with 2020 seventh overall pick Gonzales, making their way to the majors in the next year or two. Seeing all three selected to the AFL prospect showcase game is a nice sign for the progress of the recent drafts.
— Second baseman Rodolfo Castro could provide Gonzales with some internal competition in the future. Castro had a strong finish to the 2022 season in Pittsburgh, putting up a .788 OPS over the final two months. Castro will be playing winter ball this offseason in the Dominican League for Toros Del Este.