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Pirates Call Up Former No. 1 Draft Choice to Help Offense

The Pittsburgh Pirates will call up second baseman Nick Gonzales in time for Friday’s home game against the Chicago Cubs. Gonzales, the Pirates’ No. 1 pick in the 2020 MLB June Amateur Draft, will be expected to immediately improve their struggling offense.

In spring training, Gonzales didn’t appear to be a candidate for the second base position, which went to Jared Triolo. He was used at two other positions in addition to second base and even served as designated hitter. He hit just .257/.297/.429 in the spring games. Just as Paul Skenes had to “check some boxes” in Triple-A Indianapolis before getting promoted, so did Gonzales. Gonzales put in the work and exceeded expectations. In 30 games in Triple-A, he hit .358/.431/.608 with four home runs and 19 RBI. Just as importantly, he cut down on his strikeouts. He struck out just 24 times in 137 plate appearances for a 17.5 percent strikeout rate that was a vast improvement over his 26.6 rate in Triple-A last year. The Pirates like to see a high OBP, and Gonzales has succeeded there as well.

Pirates Had No Choice But to Call Up Gonzales

As a team, the Pirates are hitting .220/.301/.329 heading into Friday’s action. They rank at or near the bottom of the National League in many key offensive categories. They’re striking out too often (352 times in 38 games). The front office expected a contender this year. The Pirates started the season at 9-2 as though they were ready to deliver on those expectations. However, they are now 17-21. Manager Derek Shelton and general manager Ben Cherington can’t be happy with what they’ve seen thus far in the current home stand, during which the Bucs have gone 3-3 against the Colorado Rockies and Los Angeles Angels. They probably thought some changes were in order. Regardless, it was getting harder to ignore what Gonzales and Skenes were doing in Triple-A.

Primarily a second baseman, Gonzales can also play shortstop and third base. The Pirates’ starters at those positions are hitting a combined .234/.305/.323 with seven home runs and 37 RBI. Triolo has been the weakest link in this trio and is the likely candidate to ride the bench or go down to Triple-A. But plugging Gonzales into any of those spots will be an improvement if his hitting in Triple-A carries over.

Improvement Over 2023

As Gonzales was a collegiate player drafted out of New Mexico State, the Pirates probably expected to see him producing in the majors sooner. Called up to the bigs two different times in 2023, he hit just .209/268/.348 in 35 games.

The past doesn’t matter now. The Pirates have a string of 10 games against NL Central division rivals, the Cubs and Milwaukee Brewers. After a three-game weekend set with the Cubs, the Bucs go on the road. American Family Field in Milwaukee has been especially unkind to the Pirates in recent years. The Pirates have to hope that in giving Gonzales the call, he’s up to the task of helping make some noise in the division race. He can’t do it alone, but it looks like he’s finally ready to help.


Photo Credit: © Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports


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