Pirates Select New Mexico State Shortstop Nick Gonzales
With the seventh pick of the first round on Wednesday, the Pirates selected New Mexico State shortstop Nick Gonzales.
His selection was a record-breaking one, as it was the first time that seven consecutive college players had been taken to begin the first round.
Gonzales has done nothing but hit at NMSU. He put up a .347/.425/.596 slash line with nine home runs as a freshman, then came back and put up a monster sophomore season as an encore, hitting .432/.532/.773 with 16 homers. In a 16-game sample of a 2020 season, he had already mashed 12 homers.
That track record was enticing for Pirates general manager Ben Cherington.
“Nick has been an elite college performer as a middle infielder both at New Mexico State and summer seasons. We’re equally impressed with the consistent improvement Nick has made since high school,” Cherington said in a statement.
Gonzales pointed to some mechanical adjustments and time spent in the weight room as reasons for his improvement year over year in college, particularly from a power standpoint.
“I would say there’s been some slight mechanical adjustments that I made freshman year in order to tap into my legs a little more,” Gonzales said. “That kind of led into also lifting, getting bigger in the weight room, getting stronger, flexibility and everything like that. It’s kind of just smoothly transitioned into the power I have now.”
But given that he played at a mid-major program that also happens to play its games at altitude, there were lingering questions for some about whether those statistics were a mirage. Those questions went away after the summer following his sophomore season, when Gonzales went to the Cape Cod League and won MVP honors after hitting .351 with seven homers for Cotuit.
“For me, it was so important and crucial for the next level for me because I needed to go out there against better competition with a wood bat at sea level,” Gonzales said. “That was kind of the three things that were knocked on me was the elevation, the competition, the metal bats, everything like that. Kind of going there was the X-factor for me. I really had to go up there and do well and fortunately I was able to do well.”
Gonzales was primarily a second baseman during his first two college seasons, but slid over to shortstop for his abbreviated junior campaign. There’s obviously hope that he can handle that position moving forward, but even if he ends up moving away from shortstop, his bat will play. For now, the Pirates want to give him a shot to prove he can handle shortstop.
"Obviously (he was) announced as a shortstop and would come into the Pirates as a shortstop, he's played both sides of second base," Cherington said. "We think he can both, but he'll come into the Pirates as a shortstop. Certainly want to take a look at that position and then see where it goes down the line."
Gonzales being selected seventh overall brought a little bit of normalcy to a first round that had seen very little of the sort to that point. In the final Baseball America mock draft going into the evening, Gonzales was associated with the Pirates. The association was so strong, in fact, that earlier Wednesday, Gonzales came across a photoshopped image someone had made of him wearing Pirates gear on social media.
“When I saw the Pirates on there, I saw a picture of me that someone kind of photoshopped me wearing black and yellow with the Pirate, and I really liked it, actually,” Gonzales said. “I even sent it to my girlfriend’s dad because I really liked the picture and now it’s a dream come true.”
Gonzales admitted that he doesn’t think he knows anyone who currently plays in the Pirates organization personally, but he does have fond memories of the team from his childhood.
“Andrew McCutchen, he was one of my favorite players growing up, watching him play and run down balls in center field,” Gonzales said. “I think he wore the black and yellow really good.”
If what he accomplished in college is any preview of what he’ll do in a Pirates uniform, some kid watching Pirates games a few years from now will think the same of Gonzales.