Blue Jays: First-Round Candidate Nick Gonzales

The Toronto Blue Jays have the fifth overall pick in the 2020 MLB June Amateur Draft, scheduled for June 10 and 11.

As with any draft, there is much speculation concerning what player the Blue Jays will select.  Nick Gonzales is a name that has appeared in the Top Seven of many mock drafts. Perhaps the Blue Jays will use their first-round selection on Gonzales.

This article will review the Gonzales candidacy, and it will draw upon the summaries published by Baseball America (“BA”), Baseball Prospectus (“BP”), and MLB.com. For reference purposes, Table 1 contains FanGraphs Tool Grades; Table 2 reflects FanGraphs Future Value Chart.

Background

Gonzales is a 21-year-old infielder, who stands 5’10”, weighs 190 pounds, bats right, and throws right. As a walk-on, he joined the New Mexico State Aggies for the 2018 collegiate season and posted a .347/.425/.596 slash line. For his Aggie career, Gonzales recorded a .399/.502/.747 line. If there was concern that New Mexico’s high elevation unduly assisted his hitting stats, he settled that matter. In 2019, he played summer ball in the Cape Cod League, hit .351/.451/.630, and earned the league’s MVP award.

BA described him as “the prototypical baseball rat but with more of an innate ability to hit for both average and power than most gritty gamer types.”

Hitting

According to BA, Gonzales has “elite bat-to-ball skills and plate discipline, and his strong hands allow him to make hard contact to all fields. He’s an above-average runner and has good baserunning instincts”.

BP opined that “he has the quickest hands you’ll find in the draft, which also creates the best bat speed of anyone this year.” They even went so far as to note the similarities between the Gonzales swing and that of Mike Trout. Yes, that guy. However, BP was quick to add that “while nowhere near the physical specimen that Trout is, the swing does give Gonzales a very high upside offensive profile.”

MLB.com reported that Gonzalez “has as much pure hitting ability as just about any bat in the 2020 class. He does it with a short and compact swing and a ton of bat speed, controlling the bat head extremely well through the strike zone”. MLB.com offered that “there’s strength in his compact frame, but he might be more of a doubles hitter” than a home run batter.

MLB.com assigned a 60-grade to Gonzales’s hitting and a 45-score for his power.

Defence

Gonzales played second base in 2018 and 2019, but he switched to shortstop in 2020. BA pointed out that there are differing views as to whether he can play shortstop. Most observers want “to put him at second base and just let him be an elite hitter at the position.” Gonzales has solid arm strength, but he lacks “the short-area quickness that teams prefer in their shortstops.” He’s a steady second baseman and has the “ability to throw from various arm slots.”

BP had little to say about his defence other than to say, “he is a middle infielder likely destined to play second base.”

MLB.com gave a 50-grade to Gonzales’s overall defence, a 55-grade for running, and a 50-score for his arm.

Concerns

BP listed the following issues regarding Gonzales:

  • Short in stature
  • Doesn’t have the arm to play shortstop
  • An inconsistent glove
  • Average to slightly less than average speed

These caveats do not constitute a hard pass on Gonzales. BP emphasized his makeup. Except for height, “everything else is improvable through a regimented development plan. Scouts have said he is a gym rat, continually working on his game, and has the best work ethic of anyone they’ve seen since Bryce Harper.”

Future value/rank

Gonzales is the #5-ranked player on each of BA’s, BP’s, and MLB.com’s prospect list. MLB gave an overall 55-grade to Gonzales.

BA assesses that “with his tremendous track record of hitting and strong Cape performance, Gonzales should go off the board among the first five picks.” According to BP, Gonzales can be a better than average second baseman. They describe him as having an 80-grade obsession for improvement that he will use to address his weaknesses. “If done correctly, he could be a fixture in the midsummer classic.”

The last word

The Athletic’s Keith Law projects Gonzales “to hit for average with some doubles power with solid defence at second … enough to make him a safe pick in the first round for a team that wants a likely regular”. Should the Blue Jays, who have an abundance of quality middle infielders in the organization, select Gonzales? Are they interested in another safe pick such as Emerson Hancock? Or should they reach for more upside by selecting Garrett Mitchell, Zac Veen, or Max Meyer? June 10 is the date that this mystery will be solved.