After much practice, Gonzales gets pro reps
Imagine being selected in the first round of the MLB Draft. All the hype that goes along with it. The chance to make an early impact in pro ball. Except instead of working your way up the ladder, you’ve got to begin your career facing your teammates day in and day out.
“I've been practicing a lot for a year and a half now,” said Nick Gonzales, the Pirates’ No. 7 overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft.
That was life until recently for Gonzales, Pittsburgh's No. 2 prospect per MLB Pipeline and the No. 43 overall prospect in MLB. The 21-year-old middle infielder was fresh off hitting .448 with 12 homers in 16 games at New Mexico State University when he was selected.
With the Minor League season canceled, Gonzales didn’t have a chance to play a pro game. In fact, he had to wait to see if he would even be added to the club’s 60-man player pool and get a spot at the alternate training site.
Due to Edgar Santana’s suspension in June 2020 and Hector Noesí’s election not to play, Gonzales nabbed a spot and made the trek to Altoona, Penn., to begin work with his new teammates, including rookie sensation Ke’Bryan Hayes for the first half and Will Craig, who he said helped him a lot.
Now, Gonzales is getting his first game reps as a pro against Major League competition.
“I was just looking forward to playing against another team,” Gonzales said. “I didn't really know, or didn't know who I was facing, I just kind of wanted to go out there and compete again. I missed that.”
Gonzales began the spring 0-for-6 and playing sporadically late in games, but he’s 3-for-6 in his past four games, including hitting a home run off Braves reliever A.J. Minter. The young infielder walked reporters through his approach to facing Minter -- what his arsenal was, what his tendencies were and why he expected a fastball on the first pitch.
It sounded like a professional who’d done his work, and it paid off.
“I'd seen video of [Gonzales] hitting in college and it was very similar to that, but to lead off an inning and to show bat speed like that [was great],” manager Derek Shelton said.
The bat speed is something Gonzales said he learned from one of his favorite baseball players growing up, Andrew McCutchen, a former Pirates fan favorite. There are some similarities between Gonzales and McCutchen -- similar height, the bat speed, the all-around game.
However, there is one minor difference for now: McCutchen’s outgoing personality on the field vs. Gonzales’ more reserved demeanor. That was apparent in his homer, too.
“I was hoping we could get a smile out of him, but we didn’t,” Shelton said.
“I tried to play it cool,” Gonzales said. “Didn’t want to crack a smile, but I cracked a smile once I got to the dugout.”
• Left-hander Tyler Anderson made his final start of spring during Friday’s 5-2 loss to the Tigers at LECOM Park. He served up a leadoff home run to Robbie Grossman but bounced back to pitch four innings with just the one run allowed on three hits. Shelton said Anderson completed two more innings on the back fields to stretch out for the regular season.
“He gave up the home run early to Grossman, but he continued to execute pitches,” Shelton said. “We know he's a guy who’s gonna have to mix and match. Really happy with his outing.”
Anderson’s outing comes six days before Opening Day, making him a candidate for Pittsburgh's Opening Day starter. However, Shelton said that decision has not been made.
• Shortstop Kevin Newman laced a double to left field in the second inning as part of his 1-for-2 game, pushing his Grapefruit League average to .708 (17-for-24) with five doubles. It led to a great moment on the AT&T Sportnet broadcast with Adam Frazier, who's batting .559, mic’ed up in the dugout.
“Newman finding another barrel, which is ... weird,” Frazier said, doing his best play-by-play impression. “That’s a double. I was trying to catch him, but I don’t think he’s going to let me.”
• Tyler Bashlor made his first spring relief appearance on Friday after he was delayed with lower back tightness. The right-hander struck out the first two batters he faced while reaching 95 mph with his fastball, but he allowed three consecutive hits and one earned run.
Chad Kuhl will make his final regular-season tune-up as he starts against the Red Sox at 1:05 p.m. ET Saturday at LECOM Park. Kuhl returned to camp this week after the birth of his son, Hudson. Wil Crowe, Chasen Shreve, David Bednar, Geoff Hartlieb and Clay Holmes are also expected to pitch. The game will be broadcast live for free on MLB.TV.