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'Unbelievable': Gonzales thrilled to be with Bucs

@adamdberry
June 24, 2020

PITTSBURGH -- On Wednesday, Nick Gonzales completed his comeback story. Once an undrafted walk-on at New Mexico State University, Gonzales worked to become a collegiate baseball star and the seventh overall pick in this year’s MLB Draft. On Wednesday, he passed a physical examination and signed with the Pirates to

PITTSBURGH -- On Wednesday, Nick Gonzales completed his comeback story.

Once an undrafted walk-on at New Mexico State University, Gonzales worked to become a collegiate baseball star and the seventh overall pick in this year’s MLB Draft. On Wednesday, he passed a physical examination and signed with the Pirates to begin his professional baseball career.

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Gonzales received a signing bonus of $5,432,400, the full slot value of the seventh overall pick, sources told MLB.com. He arrived in Pittsburgh on Tuesday after agreeing to sign, though there was little question he’d choose to do so.

And there’s no doubt Gonzales is eager to get back to PNC Park, where he walked onto the field on Wednesday for the first time.

“It’s been so awesome. It was so jaw-dropping just to walk into this park and see how beautiful it is and see the city right behind center field, the Clemente Bridge,” Gonzales said on a Zoom call while wearing a No. 20 Pirates jersey. “It was unbelievable. Getting to step on the field was incredible for me. You can go to a park and see how beautiful it is, but it’s a little different when you actually are on the field. For me, that was really special.”

Gonzales shared the experience with his parents and girlfriend, who traveled with him. As he signed his contract, officially becoming a professional baseball player, Gonzales had another guest in the room via Zoom: his older brother, Daniel, a former football player at the U.S. Naval Academy who is serving as a U.S. Marine in Japan. Daniel also Zoomed in on Draft night, with a screen set up for him right next to Gonzales’ couch.

“I’ve watched him grow into the leader he is now on and off the field with the Marine Corps and everything like that, being a captain of the football team as well,” Gonzales said. “So I kind of saw that, and it really showed me how I wanted to be and molded me into the leader I am and the player I am.”

Gonzales has taken a bit of a crash course on his new team since being drafted. His father bought him a book about Roberto Clemente, which he intends to read before he returns to Pittsburgh. When will that be? It’s unclear, given the uncertainty about how player development will proceed moving forward. Whatever comes next, Gonzales said he will be prepared to play.

“I’m going to pretty much do the same thing I’ve been doing the whole quarantine,” he said. “Just training and getting ready for whatever’s next whether it’s in a week or whether it’s a few months from now.”

Pirates general manager Ben Cherington previously said that Gonzales will join the Pirates system as a shortstop, though many evaluators predict he’ll wind up at second base in the big leagues. Cherington has declined to set a timeline for Gonzales’ climb to Pittsburgh, especially given the current uncertainty facing Minor League players, but he is expected to move quickly due to his advanced approach at the plate.

Gonzales, 21, was widely considered to be one of the best pure hitters in this year’s Draft class. He was MLB Pipeline’s No. 5 overall Draft prospect due primarily to his offensive potential. He hit .347/.425/.596 as a freshman at New Mexico State then slashed .432/.532/.773 with 16 homers as a sophomore. Facing tougher competition in the Cape Cod League that summer, he put together a .351/.451/.630 line with seven homers in 153 at-bats to earn league MVP honors.

“We are thrilled to add Nick Gonzales to the Pirates family,” Cherington said in a statement. “Nick has been an elite performer at every level of his baseball career. Nick has a broad skill set which allows him to impact multiple areas of the game. Just as importantly, Nick has demonstrated a deep passion for the game and for learning and improvement. We believe those qualities will allow him to continue finding new levels of performance and, one day, to become a valuable member of our Major League team. We welcome Nick and his family to the Pirates.”

Baseball teams don’t draft for need, but it’s worth noting that the Pirates are stocked with middle infielders from the Majors to the lowest levels of their system. In the Majors, they’re currently set with Kevin Newman at shortstop and Adam Frazier at second base. They have Cole Tucker waiting in the wings, potentially as a backup or depth option this season, after making his debut last year.

Oneil Cruz, Pittsburgh’s No. 3 prospect, is currently a shortstop but could move off the position as he continues to fill out his 6-foot-7 frame. Speedy prospect Ji-Hwan Bae could play shortstop or second base. Cruz was slated to begin this season in Double-A, while Bae was likely ticketed for Class A Advanced Bradenton to begin the year.

The Pirates added to their shortstop prospect depth over the offseason by acquiring Liover Peguero in the Starling Marte trade. Peguero is just below that mix of players, presumably bound for Class A Greensboro under normal circumstances this season.

How Gonzales fits into that group remains to be seen. But having too many talented players up the middle would certainly qualify as a good problem for the Pirates to have.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.