Bucs' Gonzales finishing strong in second AFL stint

November 11th, 2022

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Four swings, four hits. Nick Gonzales was the paragon of efficiency in Surprise’s 8-2 victory at Scottsdale Stadium on Thursday afternoon, as he finished 4-for-5 with a pair of run-scoring knocks. He saw 10 pitches over his first four at-bats but swung at just four, all of which resulted in him reaching base during the Saguaros’ regular-season finale.

Gonzales’ four-hit game marks the 14th such outing during the AFL regular season. The Pirates’ No. 5 prospect strode to the dish for the final time in the seventh knowing he was a knock shy of a five-hit day, which has eluded him thus far as a pro. (He has five four-hit games.)

“I was just trying to keep it simple,” Gonzales said. “Last regular-season game of the year and I wanted to finish strong. I saw a good four pitches and put four good swings on 'em.”

The first two hits for Gonzales came off Scottsdale starter Carson Whisenhunt, the Giants’ No. 7 prospect. Getting ahead in the count both times, Gonzales walloped a double to the warning track in left in the first and then similarly lined a single in the third. MLB’s No. 93 overall prospect's singles in the fourth and fifth were both hard-hit as well, coming off different right-handed relievers.

A rare two-time participant in the Fall League, Gonzales -- an Arizona native -- has made his returns to the desert count. Selected to the Fall Stars Game on both occasions, the seventh overall pick out of New Mexico State in the 2020 MLB Draft tore through the circuit last year. He's compiled more modest numbers this go-round, with an .851 OPS in 18 contests.

“I had a lot of fun this year,” Gonzales said. “This year, [I was] a little bit more comfortable coming in because I knew what to expect and everything. It’s been a blast.”

In addition to having family in attendance while he dons Pittsburgh threads, Gonzales is excited to be back in action. Plantar fasciitis torpedoed his summer with Double-A Altoona, but he hit with a vengeance upon his return. Over his final 28 games, he slashed .286/.408/.505.

While limited to just 71 games, Gonzales still impressed in his first taste of Double-A this year. He ranked fifth among all Eastern League batters with at least 300 plate appearances with a .383 on-base percentage and seventh in wRC+ (127). His hit tool is regarded as his best prospect trait, which is not surprising after he hit .432 and .448 in his final two collegiate campaigns, respectively.

Defensively, Gonzales has spent much of his pro career manning the keystone. He has seen a handful of starts at short as well, but upon joining Surprise, he has been something of an infield Swiss-army knife with at least five starts at second, shortstop and third base.

Gonzales checked in at two of those spots Thursday, starting the game at second before sliding over to third for the final two frames. His time at the hot corner during the fall has been his first outings at the position as a pro.

“It’s been a ton of fun for me because I don’t really get to play on the left side of [the infield] because I’m usually at second base,” Gonzales said. “I think it’s been really fun trying out all these positions and everything. Third is definitely a little weird at first but it’s kind of like second.

“It’s good for [Pittsburgh] to see that I can play everywhere.”

Fellow Pirates prospect Jacob Gonzalez kicked off the scoring for Surprise with a rocket RBI double down the left-field line in the fourth. The first baseman plated another run with a single in the sixth, enjoying a flawless day at the dish with two walks mixed in. Catcher Blake Sabol – who played alongside Gonzales with the Curve – posted a multihit performance as well.