PITTSBURGH — It’s been over six weeks since Nick Gonzales was optioned back to Triple-A Indianapolis following his first stint in the big leagues.
With the Pittsburgh Pirates as a first time major-leaguer, Gonzales got off to a hot start. In his first 13 games, the 24-year-old slashed .333/.370/.619 with four doubles, a triple, two home runs and 11 RBIs.
After that, however, the 2020 first-round draft pick scuffled at the plate and went hitless in his final 14 at-bats before the Pirates optioned him back to Indianapolis.
In 33 games since being back with the Pirates’ top minor league affiliate, Gonzales has found his groove again.
Over 137 plate appearances, Gonzales has hit .298 (36 for 121) with nine doubles, a triple, six home runs, 12 RBIs and he has swiped three bases.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Gonzales is that he has put the ball in play more. A high strikeout rate has always been his Achilles heel, but he’s kept it at a more manageable 23.2% with the Indians. He’s also posted a healthy 12.0% walk rate to go along with it.
Gonzales has seemingly improved in the areas he needed to address since getting demoted at the beginning of August, so why hasn’t he received another shot with the big league club?
The answer is, well, I can’t really think of one.
The most logical reason I can point to is that the Pirates want to continue to give him more regular at-bats, because that could be a lot easier in Triple-A than it is with the Pirates. But it shouldn’t be.
Pirates general manager Ben Cherington hinted at this when talking to reporters at PNC Park on Tuesday afternoon.
“He went down with some clear targets and he’s worked hard on those and we’ve seen some progress that he’s going after that we outlined with him,” Cherington said. That’s always a good sign to us, when we see a player does go back down for the first time and has a target and shows some progress. That’s a sign of a player who’s maturing and kind of ready to earn the next opportunity.
“So his name does come up. We’re continuing to assess that every day and figure out how to balance the playing time for everybody for our major league roster and our Triple A roster. The Indy season will come to a close here a little bit sooner than the major league season so that will come into it. Proud of the work he’s done.”
It hasn’t been ruled out that Gonzales won’t be back by the end of the season, and it might even be more likely than not that he does return for a cup of coffee before season’s end.
However, it’s still curious that he has not received that second opportunity yet.
Nick Gonzales is capable of manning three of the four infield spots with second base serving as his primary position.
The only two infielders currently on the Pirates’ roster who have warranted a spot in the lineup everyday are Ke’Bryan Hayes and Liover Peguero.
Hayes will man third base the majority of the time, but Gonzales can step in for whenever he needs a breather. Peguero has played both second base and short. Gonzales can serve as his double play partner up the middle, with a higher level of comfortability at second base.
It’s also curious when you consider some of the other options the Pirates are currently rostering.
Vinny Capra, a fellow infielder, has been up with the Pirates since Aug 21. In the Pirates’ 22 games since then, Capra has only made two starts and has amassed a total of 16 plate appearances. He’s posted a .552 OPS in the sparse opportunity he’s received.
Alika Williams, who has seen plenty of time at short, is a reliable defender. He’s also struggled at the plate and probably best serves as a backup infielder and a defensive replacement for late in games.
On the year, Williams is slashing .217/.294/.272 with only five extra-base hits (all doubles) in 40 games.
I’d argue that Gonzales has earned an opportunity with the Pirates more so than either of Capra or Williams.
Gonzales, given his pedigree as a former top-10 pick and notable prospect status, should factor into the Pirates’ future plans more than Capra or Williams.
Perhaps the Pirates’ handling of Gonzales late in the season could tell us something about their current thoughts are on who he is as a player and what the plans are for him moving forward.
If that’s the case, it seems awfully quick to sour on a first-round pick from only three years ago.
Regardless, Nick Gonzales is deserving of another shot with the Pirates. And in my opinion, it should have already happened.