PEORIA, Ariz. -- Nick Gonzales isn’t entirely new to shortstop. He played 15 of 16 games there as a junior at New Mexico State in an attempt to exhibit his skills at a premium position in time for the Draft. But it still takes a little bit of a transition to slide over from his traditional spot of second base to the six.
“You’re locked in every play,” Gonzales said of playing short. “Making the throw across the diamond is different. It’s good for me to use my legs and get into the throw, and also just getting the feel for different places to play defense on the dirt. I think it’s really good for me."
Gonzales showed he can balance his defensive work with his offensive talent Thursday night at home for Peoria.
The Pirates’ No. 4 prospect reached four times in five plate appearances as the No. 2 hitter and shortstop in the Javelinas lineup as Peoria fell to Mesa, 7-6, at Peoria Sports Complex.
Two singles and a pair of walks marked Gonzales’ second multihit showing over his first six games in the Arizona Fall League and his first time getting on base on three or more occasions in that span. The right-handed batter improved his early Fall League slash line to .292/.393/.417 through his first 28 plate appearances on the showcase circuit.
“It takes a few days obviously,” he said of the AFL transition. “You have to get your feet wet and everything. First game went well [last week]. Got my first hit. Got first ground balls. It’s just baseball after that.”
After taking a free pass in the first inning, Gonzales opened the scoring with a solid RBI single that beat the shift through the right side of the infield in the second. He pulled his next base hit on a liner to left in the fourth and gave the Javelinas hope for a comeback in the ninth with his second walk of the day to lead off the frame. But he was stranded on third as the potential game-tying run when Jose Caballero and Drew Lugbauer struck out.
The Arizona native is back in his home state after a strong first full season in the Pittsburgh system, though one that was limited to 80 games due to a broken right pinky finger in late May. After spending most of July finding his offensive form, Gonzales took off the rest of the way at High-A Greensboro, hitting .322/.424/.661 with 13 homers in 43 games from Aug. 1 on. He finished with a .302/.385/.565 line and 18 homers over 80 games with the Grasshoppers, prompting the Pirates to feel comfortable sending him to the advanced competition of the AFL.
In Greensboro, Gonzales was double-play partners with a strong shortstop in Liover Peguero. While Peoria boasts a good shortstop prospect in Bryson Stott of the Phillies, it’s easier to practice defensive flexibility with the scheduled days off that come in the Fall League.
“They said, 'Hey, just go out and be athletic and play short and make some plays,'” Gonzales said of the Pirates’ instructions. “Second base is still the primary, and I’m playing there most of the week. But going over to short, it’s good.”
Gonzales has above-average speed and can make it work at shortstop -- as he showed turning a 6-4-3 double play in the second inning Thursday -- but evaluators believe his average arm and range are better fits at second, where he made 72 of his 73 defensive starts during the Minor League season. It’s Gonzales’ potentially plus hit tool -- the one he showed off in Greensboro -- that will be the key to his ascent, and he’s happy to take whatever route gets him to Pittsburgh.
“Whatever they want out of me,” he said. “I’m just out there having fun.”
It took a four-run top of the ninth for visiting Mesa to pull off the win. Marlins No. 5 prospect JJ Bleday was the only member of the Solar Sox with multiple hits as he picked up three singles and two RBIs.
Lugbauer -- an in-season Braves replacement for Shea Langeliers -- homered in his second at-bat of the Fall League and finished with three RBIs in the loss.