As is the case with many young players, Nick Gonzales experienced the highs and lows of being a first-time major-leaguer during his first season with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
There were plenty of highs for the Pirates’ 2020 first-round draft pick after he received his initial promotion to Pittsburgh from Triple-A Indianapolis on June 23.
The highest of highs came on June 27 against the San Diego Padres, the fourth game of his career. In the second inning of that game, Gonzales tripled home a run for the first hit and first RBI of his brief career. Five innings later, the 24-year-old belted a 442-foot home run for his first round-tripper.
In that game, the Pirates erased an early three-run deficit to defeat the Padres 9-4 thanks in part to Gonzales’ impact at the plate.
Gonzales continued to perform well at the plate over the next handful of games but scuffled down the stretch. He was eventually optioned back to Indianapolis before being recalled again late in the season.
“I don’t think I ever pictured myself as getting there and then checking the box of, ‘OK, I did it. It’s over.’ That’s not really what I intend to do,” Gonzales said of his debut season at PiratesFest. “I intend to be there for a long time and be an impact player. For me, a step in the right direction and also kind of showed me what I need to improve and work on, things I need to focus on in the offseason, things that I’m excited to see how things are going in spring and how that carries over into the season.”
While Gonzales showed flashes, it’s clear there are some adjustments to be made as he gears up for the 2024 season.
In his brief time with the Pirates last season, Gonzales struck out in just over 28% of his plate appearances. In Triple-A, he managed only a slightly-better 26.6% strikeout rate.
Much of his work this offseason has been focused on his offense. There were certain aspects that Gonzales noticed that needed to be corrected.
“Offensively, there were just some things that with my swing that had slowly (crept) in that really didn’t show up in college or earlier in my career in the minor leagues. Just things that baseball does,” he said. “You don’t realize that you’re slowing hunching over and your swing is slowly changing over the course of a few months, just trying to change things or work on different stuff, seeing the ball better, whatever it may be.
“You look back and you go, ‘Oh, wow.’ Look at video from a few years ago and look at video from earlier this season and you see, ‘Oh, OK, there’s a big difference there.’ I need to get back to where I was.”
Gonzales first noticed some red flags during the season and started to try and correct what was wrong after he was optioned back down to Triple-A.
Now that he’s had a chance to catch his breath after the season ended, there’s been more time to get back on track. He feels that now he will be able to be more impactful in the batter’s box next season.
“I think if I continue to work on the adjustments I’ve been making and keep hitting on what I was doing the back half of the year last year, I think I’ll be in a good spot. I’m really excited for it,” said Gonzales. “Knowing what it is that I need to work on and knowing exactly what will dictate whether I’m having better success or whether I’m struggling – knowing exactly what that is and working on it is really huge for me the whole offseason. I’m excited for it.”
The Pirates will be counting on Gonzales to come to spring camp ready to go. He’s one of several players in competition for the wide-open second base job on the opening day roster.
Whenever his name is called during the season, whether on opening day or later in the season, Gonzales is confident he will be ready.
“I want to come out here and play. All the guys on the team are my brothers and I love all of them. You don’t think about (competition) in that way. You just think about it as they’re there to make me better. I’m there to make them better and at the end of the day, whoever’s there to start the season or whatever time in the season, is who deserves it.”