With the seventh selection in Wednesday’s Major League Baseball draft, the Pirates selected Nick Gonzales, a right-handed hitting shortstop from New Mexico State.
The 21-year-old Gonzales, who put up video game-like numbers for the Aggies – particularly in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season – had been linked to the Pirates by several outlets, so the choice was not much of a surprise.
The earlier portion of the opening round was a bit of a surprise, however. After Detroit selected Arizona State slugger Spencer Torkelson with the first pick, Baltimore pulled a bit of a surprise in passing on Vanderbilt standout Austin Martin and choosing Arkansas outfielder Heston Kjerstad, who also had been linked to the Pirates in several mock drafts.
The surprises continued when Miami tabbed Minnesota right-hander Max Meyer with the fourth pick. While Kjerstad and Meyer were highly regarded in most pre-draft conversation, I don’t recall anyone having them go as high as they ultimately went.
Asa Lacy, a left-handed pitcher from Texas A&M who was considered by many to be the No. 2 pick in the draft, wound up going No. 4 to Kansas City. Toronto then followed by taking Martin, a versatile player who was selected as a shortstop.
Seattle was next on the board and went with Georgia right-hander Emerson Hancock. That set the stage for the Pirates’ selection of Gonzales, who some say may not have the defensive skills to remain at shortstop but should be able to settle in at second base.
In any event, it’s Gonzales’ bat that endeared him to scouts and those who follow the game. Jim Callis of MLB.com used Milwaukee’s Keston Hiura as a comp for Gonzales and said he could reach the big leagues as fast as Hiura, who saw action in 15 games for the Brewers in 2017 – the year he was drafted ninth overall out of UC Irvine. Hiura, a second baseman, hit .303 with a .938 OPS in 314 at-bats for Milwaukee last year.
Gonzales was not highly recruited out of Arizona and wound up walking on at New Mexico State, where he hit .347 with a 1.021 OPS in his freshman season. He followed that with a .432 batting average and a 1.304 OPS as a sophomore and this year was off the charts with a .448 batting average and a 1.765 OPS. In 58 at-bats, Gonzales slugged 12 home runs and drove in 36.
While some questioned the level of competition and the altitude, Gonzales eased some of those doubts by performing well in last summer’s Cape Cod League. There, he hit .351 with a 1.081 OPS in 154 at-bats and took home the league’s most valuable player award.
Gonzales played his high school baseball in Tucson – the same city that produced another former Pirates prospect in Sammy Khalifa. Khalifa, also a shortstop, was also taken No. 7 by Pittsburgh in 1982.
The Pirates also will be making a competitive balance round pick, the 31st overall selection, later Wednesday.