The beginning of the 2021 season was a challenging time for Nick Gonzales. The fourth-ranked Pirates prospect started hot, then missed six weeks after fracturing the pinky in his throwing hand. Following a slow start upon his return on June 26, the Nick Gonzales the baseball world expected to see when he was taken with the seventh pick in the 2020 Draft has arrived.
Gonzales, MLB Pipeline’s No. 68 overall prospect, crushed his 10th homer of the year in a four-hit day at the dish during High-A Greensboro’s 11-6 win over Bowling Green. He added his 17th double, two singles, two RBIs, one run scored and a stolen base to round out the day. It was the second baseman’s third four-hit game of the season, all of which have occurred following his return from his pinky injury.
“I just got comfortable in my swing again and I’m feeling good, just working on not thinking too much. Not thinking about things I can’t control and just putting good swings on good pitches,” said Gonzales. “I try to keep it pretty level-headed whether I’m going good or I’m going bad. I know baseball is a tough game, so you want to be as still as possible.”
Hitting second, Pipeline’s No. 2 second-base prospect began his day with a single to left field on a 1-1 pitch up in the zone and on the outer half of the plate. He followed teammate Matt Gorski, who led off the game with a single of his own, on a double steal to swipe his fifth bag of the year. They were stranded in scoring position, but Gonzales cashed in a run for the Grasshopper’s in the second inning on a line drive to left that landed for an RBI double and capped Greensboro’s three-run bottom of the inning.
After a quick third inning, Greensboro put seven runs on the board and batted around in the fourth to break the game open. Gonzales batted fifth in the inning and once again followed Gorski’s lead with a solo shot as the second leg of back-to-back homers, putting Greensboro up 8-0 before Bowling Green could record an out.
Gonzales added a single on the first pitch of his at-bat in the fifth before being cut down on a double play grounded into by Jared Triolo. He’d bat again in the seventh, seeing seven pitches and battling his way back from being down 1-2 to a full count before popping out to catcher Roberto Alvarez in foul ground.
The New Mexico State product has been riding a hot streak spanning 31 games beginning on July 16. Coming into Greensboro’s game that day, Gonzales was slashing .214/.287/.419 with a .706 OPS, all season-low marks. Following Sunday’s game, he is slashing .298/.369/.514 with an .882 OPS on the year.
To get back in the swing of things, Gonzales said he pulled from his memory bank and returned to some of the drills he used to do during his time as an Aggie.
“My freshman year, coach Brian Green had some drills that we would work on where it was kind of just getting your body in the right position before contact and we were hitting off the tee a lot,” said Gonzales. “I really love the tee, so I went back to hitting off the tee a little bit and getting my confidence back with that and it worked out.”
Over his 31-game hot streak that raised his OPS nearly 200 points, Gonzales has gone 48-for-128 at the plate, batting .375 with 10 doubles, two triples, five homers, 20 RBIs and 19 runs scored. The 22-year-old has recorded 15 multihit games over that span to just six games without a hit.
“I’m feeling really good. I’ve played around 60 games so that’s a good amount of games that I haven’t played in a little bit, not having a college season and not having a season last year,” said Gonzales. “The body is holding up really well, I did a really good job and all the staff here does a really good job taking care of us, so the body is feeling good, the mind’s good and I’m ready to keep going.”
Like most Pirates fans, Gonzales gets excited thinking about all the talent across Greensboro’s roster. This current iteration of the Grasshoppers features seven of the clubs top-15 prospects, including top-100 prospects in catcher Henry Davis (No. 23), right-hander Quinn Priester (No. 53) and shortstop Liover Peguero (No. 93) along with Gonzales.
“It’s super exciting. You got guys with so much talent on this team and it’s a lot of fun to come to the park and see what’s something crazy somebody’s going to do today or what you’re going to learn from somebody,” said Gonzales. “HD and Peguero and Triolo, they’re such great dudes and they help you out, they talk to you and you learn from them. That’s really fun and really awesome for me, I’m looking forward to rising up through the Minor Leagues and getting to Pittsburgh with this group.”