Williams: Are We Seeing the Real Nick Gonzales Yet?

We haven’t seen the real Nick Gonzales yet this year.

Gonzales is currently hitting for a .243/.363/.378 line in Double-A Altoona, with a 34.1% strikeout rate.

Those aren’t the numbers you’d expect from the 2020 1st rounder, who has always been highly regarded for his ability to make contact. Gonzales has struggled to make contact on the season, with a high strikeout rate and a low average that don’t match the scouting reports.

My thought is that many people in the industry can’t be this wrong. Watching Gonzales at times this year, he has looked lost chasing breaking pitches. At times, it looks like he’s hunting a fastball, and is way too aggressive out in front when he sees a breaking pitch that flashes high. Anthony Murphy had a great breakdown of that yesterday, showing how Gonzales has done a better job recently of keeping his quick hands back longer, relying on his best tool.

Adjustments Lead To Powerful Step Forward For Nick Gonzales

When I talked with Altoona manager Kieran Mattison this past weekend, he felt it was only a matter of time before things would start clicking for Gonzales.

“I think he’s been giving us more consistent, productive at-bats over the last ten games,” said Mattison. “He still reaches base a lot. He’s still getting on base and taking his walks. I think it’s a matter of time.”

That time may have already arrived.

When I talked with Mattison, Gonzales was just beginning what has now been extended to a seven game hitting streak, after going 2-for-5 with a double and a home run on Thursday night.

During this seven game stretch, Gonzales has a .481/.500/.814 line in 32 plate appearances, with a strikeout rate at 25%.

I wouldn’t say that is the real Nick Gonzales either.

This stretch has still seen bad swings at breaking stuff. Gonzales has gotten more consistent in that regard, and as Anthony pointed out yesterday, he had a big day against breaking pitches earlier this week by staying back.

Mattison felt that Gonzales just needed to try and make good decisions at the plate.

“I think that’s a start,” said Mattison. “The main thing is trying to keep that line drive approach like he does.”

On that note, Gonzales has seen a massive drop in line drives this year. His line drive rate has dropped from 27.9% last year in Greensboro to 16.7% this year in Altoona. The drop in line drives has been met with a rise in fly balls, going from 36.5% to 48.5%.

That’s not a great outcome for Gonzales.

The higher line drive rate matches up with his hitting profile, which is a high average hitter who can add some power through doubles and double-digit home runs.

The higher fly ball rate might turn Gonzales into a 20+ homer a year guy, but would drastically reduce his average, taking away the very thing that made him a first rounder and top prospect all along.

It’s still early, and there have been some positive signs lately.

As the first draft pick under Ben Cherington, Gonzales will represent the first big test of the new player development system. That system is ultimately looking to improve upon how many players reach their upsides in Pittsburgh.

Gonzales is widely regarded as a guy who could be an above-average starter in the majors, fueled by his bat and ability to hit for a high average. His start to the season — following his previous numbers coming in hitter friendly environments — left some concern that perhaps his future above-average starter projection might be in question.

I don’t think we’ve seen the real Nick Gonzales yet.

That player exists in the vast space between the overall 2022 numbers from Gonzales, and the monster numbers over the last week, and may have an approach at the plate different than either of those extremes.

As I wrote on Tuesday, this Altoona group is where Cherington’s plan seems to begin. This team has a lot of the biggest investment prospects under Cherington, including Gonzales. We don’t yet know if this new player development approach will lead to better results than the past. That will be shown in a big way when we see the results from this group.

When we see the real Nick Gonzales.

THIS WEEKEND ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

Williams: Are We Seeing the Real Nick Gonzales Yet?

Altoona Highlights the Aggressive Base Running in the Pirates Farm System

Prospect Roundtable: Who Will Be the Pirates Shortstop in 2025?

THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS

Williams: The Build Begins in Altoona

With His Bat on Fire, Liover Peguero Looks to Fix Throwing Issues

Mike Burrows Looks Like He’s Taking Another Step Forward This Year

Prospect Roundtable: Which Altoona Prospect Will Have the Best MLB Career?

Kyle Nicolas: Pitch-Mix Has Transformed Righty Into Starting Prospect

Jared Triolo: Leadoff Spot Allowing Hitting Skills To Shine Through

Despite His Recent Success, Noe Toribio Isn’t Done Making Changes

PROSPECT WATCH

DAILY VIDEO RUNDOWN

PIRATES DISCUSSION

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redwards60

Given how Keller and Swaggerty are trending to bust category, Gonzalez better not be yet another horrid first and second round pick. He has showed some life of late, but he has a long way to go to show he has mastered AA. Still way too many Ks and his overall production has been pretty weak to date….lets put it this way, Andres Alvarez has out performed him so far this year. When you think about it, there have been few of the top Pirates prospects who have met or exceeded expectations….Peguero, Henry Davis, Burrows to name a few. I am sure I overlooked a few as well…

redwards60

I didn’t like the Gonzalez pick for numerous reasons:

(1) He played against lesser college competition
(2) His stats were inflated because of the geographic area he played in
(3) He was a second baseman….how many players projected as a second baseman get drafted in the top 10?

There were 3-5 much higher ceiling players they could have selected, including Jordan Walker. The rest is history…so far…I hope he proves me wrong

1979andCounting

Geographic area?…..is the Cape Cod League no longer a high barometer? BC supposedly followed the kids in Cape Cod due to his geographic presence while with Boston. Gonzales was the MVP. Against “alleged” quality arms. If BC misses on Nick, well it’s not going to help his reputation which is already on a slippery slope in Pittsburgh.

jeffw3000

In the case of Gonzalez, I do not think you can call him a horrid pick. He was pretty much the consensus pick at 7. You could have looked at someone like Veen maybe, but he is more risky, and not really tearing it up himself. In the case of Peguero, Davis and Burrows I do not know that you can say they have met expectations. They are still in the minors. By that logic Keller exceeded expectations. He dominated in the minors. He has only been horrible in the majors. I agree, Swaggerty was a horrible pick. He has been exactly what I expected. I keep hoping he will exceed that, but it doesn’t happen. We will see the guy I wanted, and they should of picked, make his debut tonight. Nolan Gorman.

redwards60

I sad the same thing about Gorman right up until the moment the Pirates made the fateful decision to not take advantage of the fact that he fell to them unexpectedly. The Cardinals didn’t make that mistake, that is why they are the Cardinals and the Pirates are a circus act.

NMR

Why was Veen more risky?

jimmyz

My memory could be wrong but wasn’t Veen a high school draftee?

NMR

Correct.

NMR

This is an awfully ugly approach to take towards scouting.

Just keep regurgitating the same reports out of college when his competition was little sisters of the poor?

At some point doesn’t it seem healthy to adjust your priors?

John Fluharty

I get where you’re coming from with this. The further he gets from college the less relevant those reports would seem to be. But in his case, he’s really not that far removed from college and that was where the foundation of his approach was established. What other prior do we have for him? All we have is adjustments he’s made in the limited time since. If he was a former number one pick in his late twenties after being drafted out high school, then I’d agree that any scouting reports out of his high school days would be irrelevant after 10 years.

Last edited 1 month ago by John Fluharty
NMR

Very well said, John.

Gotta remember that due to the pandemic, we’re talking about a kid with only two year’s worth of college appearances, 596 PA to be exact.

He’s already logged 485 PA as a pro, and those have come against competition that is light years ahead of what he saw in the WAC.

Given roughly equal experience in college and pros, I’m not sure I see why I should care much at all about what he did prior to being drafted. Maybe that’s too aggressive?

NMR

Buddy, everyone’s complaints are about things that are specific to them. I’m certainly no different, and sure as hell never comment expecting anyone else to care let alone change!

If there’s any critique worth reading into, it’s that you’re not exactly presenting an accurate picture by implying wide-spread, current applause for his hit tool. Numerous outlets have already dropped his future hit grade based on the extremely clear data in front of us, regardless of what the eye test against terrible college competition said we should expect to see.

Thus, my comment on priors!

NMR

Look man, it’s your site.

You just explained to me that you aggregate “all” the info you have, yet you failed to even acknowledge the growing number of scouts who are very much questioning the lofty hit tool grades they threw on him coming out of college.

You then used that cherry picked set of scouting takes to appeal to their authority for why Nick Gonzales just has to become that thing, which in and of itself is awfully shortsighted. Scouts miss!

If you’re proud of cherry picking reports that allow you to craft an unrepresentative narrative, then you shouldn’t have any reason to give a shit about what I think. Go do your thing!

Last edited 1 month ago by NMR
NMR

This used to be a site that prided itself on data and progressive understanding of metrics.

I can appreciate that you’ve taken a turn in your writing, and I’m sure there’s a lot larger audience for narrative-based stuff anyways which makes it also a good business move.

But an article I’d expect to see on the old PP would be how the data doesn’t back the visual reports, not one about how the visual reports just must be right.

Last edited 1 month ago by NMR
Stephen B

It’s going to take a couple of weeks before I’m sold. Right now he’s on a tear, no question, but his BABIP the last week or so is over .700. Obviously he’s going to cool off to something more sustainable, and I want to see the shape of his production when that happens.

To me the signal will be he’s hitting singles and doubles and keeping that BABIP in the .350+ range, and striking out at or below the 20% range. His hit tool is why he was drafted. That tool, and not yoking it out at the expense of contact rate, is what will carry him to the majors.

NMR

I don’t know man, plenty of dudes develop differently than projected on draft day!

If anything, I think we’re seeing size bias. Dude’s got plus bat speed and a fly ball swing. If he were 6′ tall, I don’t think there’s any doubt we’d buy into his power potential. Add in the data piece that shows he can pump above average max exit velos and you gotta ask the question, why is he considered a hit over power prospect?

With this much inherent swing and miss to his game, why not let him be the guy he is?

Stephen B

I guess I’m guilty of that bias – I’m seeing Adam Frazier with a touch more power (and an inch or two higher above the ground). Didn’t realize his K% was still high 20s last season, both home and away. His profile was less power-dependent though, with only 1/3 of his hits going for extra bases (vs. at home, where 57% went for XBH). That’s the “normal conditions Nick” I would have expected. Solid .275/.375/.425 hitter, even if he does have a couple holes in his swing. Super useful profile! What he’s doing at Altoona isn’t that far off those numbers, but it’s coming with a mid-30s K%. And the swing and miss on both heat in the zone and breaking stuff out of it just doesn’t look right.

NMR

Also fold into this the fact that his closest big league comps in size and swing – Keston Hiura and Carter Keiboom – are already showing us that the package isn’t what we may think it is.

roibert.kasperski

The kids is learning to adjust as a pro hitter. Betting he never had to adjust much until he hit pro ball. He adjusted this time and it is paying off for now. Hopefully he learns how to adjust through a season and he will start moving his K number down. I think that we have yet to see the real Nick Gonzalez.

Danatural08

Dude’s gonna be a beast, no doubt in my mind. K’s are concerning for sure, but he’s going to be ok & only improve through out the year w more experience seeing this next level of pitching. Nick has alot of hand movement in his load, while it helps him with his power, sometimes it just takes a while to get the timing down.

Look at Anthony Volpe’s (#10 prospect per BA) stat line in his 1st year in AA: .183/.315/.348 w a 31% K rate after having a monster year last year.

NMR

He’s running a 25% K-rate, for one, and is dragging a .215 BABIP behind him.

Wilbur Miller

I saw a lot of Volpe last year and thought sure he’d tear it up anywhere he went. Baseball is effing hard.

Scranton

He has over a 29% K rate as a professional hitter. The real Nick Gonzales, as of now, is a guy who has strike out problems big enough to stop him from being even a mediocre hitter in the majors. That doesn’t mean the final product Nick Gonzales can’t succeed- his batted ball profile is encouraging, so he can definitely be a good hitter with a high K rate that isn’t ridiculous. It’s just a matter of he and the Pirate development system working the swing-and-miss problem out. We’ll see, but I’m not overly optimistic.

tedwins

As the optimist, im just focussed on his recent surge🤷‍♂️🤣

PiratePrimate

I hadn’t seen him that much before this year but the previous 50-60 AB’s I’ve watched looked nothing like the hitter of the last few days who’s staying on the ball with a much shorter stroke and not trying to jerk everything out. He has great bat speed and quick hands. He needs to wake up every morning and look in the mirror and remind himself that he’s a middle infielder.

skliesen

I think he needs to look in the mirror every morning and remind himself that “I’m a bad ass MFer and there isn’t a Pitcher alive who can get me out.”

Last edited 1 month ago by skliesen
jimmyz

And end with “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough and gosh darn it, people like me”

Wilbur Miller

Was it Ball Four that described Ted Williams in BP. Shouting, “I’m Teddy F….. Ballgame of the Major F…… Leagues!! You can’t get me out with that s…!!”

PiratePrimate

Thank God Ted’s head is cryogenically frozen and waiting for the right moment to come back and scream at the world that Ted Williams was the greatest hitter of all times

JoeNastasi

How about we just combine the two & have him wake up every morning as say I’m a bad a** 2B & I’m knocking this pitcher off the mound every AB

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