New Mexico State’s Nick Gonzales has one the highest ceilings of the draft. While unlikely, the Detroit Tigers should give him a long look.
It’s all but written in stone that Spencer Torkelson will be taken first overall this week by the Detroit Tigers. But what if something happens? Negotiations could break down or Detroit may opt for a player that plays an up the middle position. If Torkelson isn’t the first pick, Detroit could look to New Mexico State’s Nick Gonzales. Gonzales burst onto the scene at New Mexico State, starting 53 games at second base as a true freshman and winning the Western Athletic Conferences Freshman of the Year award.
Gonzales struggled to find a college to play at before walking on at NMSU. He arrived with the expectation that he would be redshirted. He wasn’t. Gonzales locked down the starting second base job and went on to lead the entire conference with a .596 slugging percentage.
Gonzales is just under 6’ tall and not quite 200lbs. But by the way he hits the ball, you could almost mistake him for Aaron Judge. In fact, he was wearing Aaron Judge socks when he hit five home runs across a doubleheader.
When the 2020 season was suspended, Gonzales was riding an 82 game on-base streak. Only Ted Williams had a longer streak (84 games) while playing in the Majors. There is a big difference between the Major Leagues and the Western Athletic Conference. Even so, an 82 game streak is still nearly unbelievable. Then while playing for Cotuit during the 2019 Cape Cod League Gonzales might not have gotten on base every game, but he did win MVP honors and hit seven home runs with a wooden bat.
Gonzales can flat out hit. He has always hit. In his senior season of high school, he hit .543 and then was a career .399 hitter at NMSU. He has one of the fastest bat speeds in the draft, possibly rivaled only by Austin Hendricks and the bat control to barrel up the ball nearly every time he swings.
He still has to prove that he is not just a product of NMSU’s home ballpark and that he will consistently be an over-the-fence threat and not just a gap-to-gap hitter in pro ball. But, with his league-leading OPS (1.081) and an MVP award against elite competition, those concerns were dampened by his performance with this summer.
Gonzales’ natural defensive position is at second base where he played exclusively his first two collegiate seasons. He switched to shortstop this year and looked capable of playing the position, but his range and arm strength would be below average professionally. He positions himself well and can get to more groundballs than would be expected of him, but can get aggressive when charging the ball. With either more reps at shortstop or a move back to second, the issue should resolve itself but is worth keeping an eye on. He may be given the chance to stay at short but most likely is better off manning the keystone.
Until he hit seven home runs during the Cape Cod League, there was talk that his power at NMSU, with an aluminum bat, wouldn’t translate to home run power once he transitioned to wooden bats. NMSU sits 4,000ft above sea level and the ball has a tendency to fly over the fence there. The phrase “Never scout the stat line” gets used a lot while looking at high-school and college prospects but, when his home park has near Coors Field altitude, it contains a great deal of truth.
It is doubtful that the Detroit Tigers draft Gonzales this year. But he would fill their need for an up the middle power bat that a team can build around. In any other year, the National Player of the Year would be more in the discussion about being drafted first overall, Gonzales just has the misfortune of standing next to the player that broke Barry Bonds‘ Arizona State freshman home run record.
Gonzales’ career has been full of buts. He hit nearly .600 as a high school senior. But, it wasn’t against great competition in Tucson Arizona. His collegiate career on-base percentage was .502 which, along with his batting average and slugging percent, was higher than both Torkelson’s and Austin Martin’s. But, his home ballpark is a hitters’ haven at 4,000ft above sea level. He hit 12 home runs in the 16 games this year. But, his power might be more doubles over home runs at the major league level. He made the move from second base to shortstop this season and looked like a natural there. But, his arm strength might be a little low for a professional shortstop.
Gonzales has consistently proven that he should not be underestimated. He will most likely be drafted between Seattle at six and Colorado at nine. But, I wouldn’t bet against him having the best career of anyone selected this Wednesday.