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Perrotto: Could Nick Gonzales Spark Pirates’ Offense?



Pittsburgh Pirates' Nick Gonzales celebrates as he crosses home plate after hitting a two-run home run off Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Colin Rea during the second inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, July 2, 2023. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

Nick Gonzales did nothing last season to show he belonged in the major leagues.

The middle infielder made his debut on June 23 and appeared in 35 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He hit just .209/.268/.348 with two home runs.

It was certainly a disappointing showing for a player the Pirates chose in the first round of the 2020 amateur draft from New Mexico State with the seventh overall selection.

Encouraged by how Gonzales is playing at Triple-A Indianapolis, general manager Ben Cherington is not ready to give up on the 24-year-old. Gonzales is hitting .385/.434/.593 with two home runs through 22 games.

“I think a big part of it is that he’s always been a good hitter,” Cherington said of Gonzales’ hot start to the season. “He’s performed as a hitter everywhere he’s ever been. Even where there have been elements that he wanted to improve upon, it’s still added up to good production everywhere he’s ever been — college, every level of the minor leagues. So, to some extent, it’s not surprising that he continues to perform.

“It has taken another step through the first month and he’s made some intentional adjustments, coming from the major leagues last year and learning from that. He was really focused on that in the offseason and spring training. We’re seeing some good changes. So, he’s proud of them. He took the experience in the major leagues and is putting them to better use to make changes to become a better player.”

Indeed, outside of the major leagues, Gonzales has been a productive hitter.

Gonzales had an eye-popping .399/.502/.747 slash line with 37 home runs in 128 career games in college. In four minor-league seasons, he has hit .292/.386/.514 while hitting 41 homers in 275 games. The Pirates were particularly encouraged by Gonzales going deep 14 times in 99 games at Indianapolis last season.

Gonzales is at least giving the Pirates something to think about as second baseman Jared Triolo is hitting just .216/.293/.273 with one home run in 24 games in his first opportunity as a regular in the major leagues. However, the Pirates love Triolo’s fielding prowess and he already has five defensive runs saved.

Cherington won’t tip his hand about the possibility of calling up Gonzales. The Pirates are averaging just 4.0 runs a game, though, so the lineup could certainly use a jolt.

An encouraging sign is that Gonzales has struck out 17 times in 91 at-bats. In his first taste of the big leagues, he was punched out in 36 of his 128 ABs.

“I think it gets back to the work he’s done and understanding how his swing works against more advanced pitching,” Cherington said of Gonzales cutting down on the Ks. “More advanced pitching is going to not only be better but it’s also going to game plan better and differently and look for places to attack and he’ll learn that. He’s taken that and made adjustments and understanding how his swing can work. Just getting him more pitches, basically. Simple as that. That’s turned into really good production.”

I’ve never been high on Gonzales since he was drafted. He was an undersized mid-major college player who played his home games in the high altitude of Las Cruces, N.M.

However, it’s hard to deny what Gonzales is doing in Triple-A. It is time for the Pirates to give him a second chance.

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