Written by: Ian Smith (@FlaSmitty)
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How rare is it for a second baseman to be a top pick in the MLB draft?
What if I told you Rickie Weeks Jr.and Nick Madrigal have been the only second baseman drafted in the top-5 of the draft in the last 20 years. That’s it; that’s the list. But New Mexico State’s current keystone is making a strong push to be the next name on that short list, potentially with the highest ceiling of the trio.
Nick Gonzales is here to become your favorite player’s favorite player. The embodiment of the term “gamer”. Just look at what he did in 2020 with just 16 games:
82 PA, .448/.610/.1.155, 12 HR, 36 RBI, 21:10 BB:K
And now the jaw-dropping college career numbers….
Career at New Mexico State (128 games)
.399/.502/.747, 188 H, 39 2B, 7 3B, 37 HR, 152 RBI, 89/79 BB:K, 13 SB
From a walk-on to an NCAA All American, the feats Gonzales has accomplished during his three years as an Aggie is nothing short of incredible. Those are numbers you’re lucky to put up on MLB The Show, but it’s coming with a grain of salt to some people within the industry and dynasty world due to factors Gonzales himself can’t control.
Presley Askew Field is the home stadium for the New Mexico State Aggies. It sits 3,900 feet above sea level with dimensions of only 400 feet to dead center and 345 feet down the lines. To term the park a hitters’ paradise may not do it justice, and Gonzales took full advantage of it en route to leading Division 1 in batting average in 2019. NMSU also belongs to the WAC, which isn’t known to be a powerhouse baseball conference with elite competition. Those two factors are leading some scouts and evaluators to see some worry and variance to the ceiling of Gonzales, some only seeing an average MLB future.
But non-elite competition combined with thin air aren’t what’s made Gonzales into a consensus top-10 option in the 2020 MLB draft. Let’s find out what did.
Gonzales can just flat out rake. No other way I’d want to put it. Comparisons to Keston Hiura have been rampant the past few months, but I think Gonzales may have an even better stick. A stocky 5’11 build who has one of my favorite right handed swings in the entire draft, the second baseman’s hit tool has an outside chance to finalize at double plus at peak. A compact swing that has zero wasted effort and easy natural loft. We’ve seen occasional issues with high velocity fastballs up in the zone, but Gonzales remains in rhythm throughout the swing and should eventually master elevated heat under the tutelage of professional hitting instruction. Lightning quick hands produce elite level bat speed on a consistent basis, giving Gonzales the ability to reach every bit of his raw power, which currently grades as above average but could reach plus at peak.
Let’s look at this great tweet from a D1 hitting instructor showing the true beauty of his swing.
One of the best swings in college baseball right now
▪️No wasted movements
▪️Controls his launch
▪️Direction to all fields pic.twitter.com/G2UGxePD7y
— Evan Ruechel (@evanruechel) March 5, 2020
A close second to the impressive bat Gonzales brings to the table is his makeup. The 21-year-old works as hard as anyone you’ll ever watch on the diamond. You can tell by how he approaches every at bat with a plan, often eliminating half the plate and forcing pitchers to throw something he can drive. He was able to execute that plan nearly every day.
Pitching to Gonzales is college must have been a nightmare. He stands nearly on top of the plate with plus vision and discipline. He walked at a 13% clip in college and was hit by 18 pitches in just 128 games. He gives you nowhere to put the ball. I mean, look at these insane numbers.
With the season officially over … here’s the streak.@Nick_Gonzales13 got on base in 167 of the last 170 games played since ‘18 when he was a FR.
Dates back to 2018. Aggie streak … 82. pic.twitter.com/ulrj308ax7
— Adam Young (@youngpbp) March 19, 2020
82 straight games on base to close a college career is mind-numbingly good. Of course, that streak includes a doubleheader this season in which he hit 5 home runs (!), one of which was an inside-the-park grand salami. If you were an NMSU fan attending a game or watching on TV, you knew you were going to see Gonzales on base every night. Those are skills you can’t often coach or teach.
Defensively, you sort of get a mixed bag with Gonzales. I think he’s going to be a second base-only type player going forward, featuring an average arm but great instincts and routes. His speed is average to above average, but it becomes an asset due to positioning, which continues to improve at the MLB level.
While his hands leave something to be desired, Gonzales often anticipates plays very well, though professional instruction should help him further optimize attacking different batted balls appropriately. At times while playing shortstop in college, the 21-year-old was over-aggressive in charging ground balls, over-complicating a relatively easy play in the process. That issue is extremely fixable, especially since Gonzales will be able to trust his arm more from second base as a professional.
From a draft and dynasty outlook, Gonzales’ biggest detractors will lean on the aforementioned, friendly hitting environment he benefitted from while at New Mexico State. Thankfully, the second baseman’s received an opportunity to play for the Cotuit Kettleers (what a name) in the Cape Cod League last summer. Wood bats. High level pitching. Away from the friendly confines at NMSU. It was time to put up or shut up, and Gonzales was LOUD.
42 Games: .351/.451/.630, 14 2B, 4 3B, 7 HR, 33 RBI, 20:22 BB:K, 6 SB (100% steal rate)
He parlayed that special line into being named Cape Cod MVP, ranking inside the top-5 in nearly every offensive category. With most of the 2020 college baseball being canceled, Gonzales’ performance in the Cape may have been the most important statistical sample of his college career.
We analyzed every ’19 @Official_CCBL hitter & calculated their respective wOBA. The Top-10:
— Stu Murray (@Stu_Murray1) March 29, 2020
He stood tall amongst some of college baseball’s elite players; now, he stands in a shortened season that may end up working in his favor. His stock couldn’t be higher at the moment. Scouts don’t care about him playing against the competition in the WAC—he’s already proven he’ll dominate his conference opposition. Other players within this draft class needed (or could have used) this 2020 college or high school season to build their MLB draft stock; Gonzales has already cemented himself to be among the elite talents.
I’ve watched as much tape as you can find on Gonzales the last few months, and I truly see a 2 or 3 hole hitter in his prime. A 4-5 WAR, .290 BA/.375 OBP, 20+ home runs type of line that will also tempt double digit steals annually. I fully believe in the makeup, and his hit tool will keep the strikeout rate in the 19-21% range with a walk rate that pushes 10 percent. His defense certainly won’t kill a team, but it will be the biggest challenge as he progresses. All being said, this is second base prospect you won’t get the chance to see too often.
The highest draft selection from New Mexico State was previously Pick 108, but Nick Gonzales should beat that by more than 100 picks in the 2020 MLB Draft this summer. You’ll know the particulars of how I feel about his draft stock when my first round mock is published on Prospects365.com in the very near future.
Follow P365 prospect analyst Ian Smith on Twitter! @FlaSmitty
Follow us on Twitter! @Prospects365
Featured image courtesy of New Mexico State baseball