Losing 103 games stinks, but the upshot is the following June gives you an opportunity to pick near the top of the draft and re-stock your farm system with some of the best amateur talent available. For the second year in a row, the Royals will have a top pick in the draft, although as Kiley McDaniel at ESPN puts it, the Royals are in a “tough spot of picking fourth in what is generally seen as a three-player draft.”
One of the top players likely to be selected in this June’s draft is New Mexico State second baseman Nick Gonzales. The Royals were linked to Gonzales in a number of mock drafts back in March and April, but his stock seems to be sliding a bit in the more recent mocks, although everyone still has him as a top eight player. Both Baseball America and MLB Pipeline have him ranked as the fifth-best prospect available, while Keith Law has him ranked fourth.
Before play was halted in March, Gonzales was absolutely destroying college baseball pitching, with a line of .448/.610/1.155 with 12 home runs in just 16 games. He is not a one-year wonder either, hitting .432/.532/.773 with 16 home runs in 55 games as a sophomore last year, and he was named WAC Freshman of the Year in 2018, hitting .347 that season.
Gonzales is perhaps the best pure college hitter in the draft, but there are some concerns his gaudy numbers are due to a favorable hitting environment in the thin air of New Mexico, coupled with playing in a lesser baseball conference, the Western Athletic Conference. However Gonzales excelled in the Cape Cod League, an elite wood-bat collegiate league, hitting .351/.451/.630 with seven home runs in 153 at-bats, earning MVP honors.
Baseball America writes that he has elite bat speed which allows him to generate solid power on such a small frame. They also note “finding more zone discipline, especially as the quality of pitching improves, will be important for his growth.” In 2019, Gonzales had a 20 percent walk rate to a 13.6 percent strikeout rate.
MLB Pipeline writes he “might be more of a doubles hitter”, although they note his home run power in the Cape Cod League. He has average speed and is only a modest threat on the bases right now. Dustin Pedroia and Keston Hiura are frequently thrown out as comps for Gonzales.
Gonzales is capable of playing both shortstop and second base, although scouts seem to think he will play second base at the professional level. According to a scouting report at Baseball America, Gonzales has solid arm strength at second, but “scouts believe he might be stretched in the hole, and he could lack the short-area quickness that teams prefer in their shortstops.” They add that he is a solid defender at second with improved footwork. Since In the last 30 years, just three second basemen have been selected in the first ten picks - Todd Walker (8th, 1994), Rickie Weeks (2nd, 2003), and Keston Hiura (9th, 2017).
It wasn’t an easy road for Gonzales. He graduated from Cienega High School in Arizona with few offers to play college baseball and was a walk-on at New Mexico State. Standing at just 5’10’’, he is noted for a terrific work ethic, making himself into one of the best hitters in college baseball. Baseball America notes he is a “prototypical baseball rat”, exactly the kind of profile the Royals tend to love in the draftees. He has not been a vocal leader, instead leading with his play on the field.
“I don’t think it’s really my place or my job to yell at somebody or anything like that,” Gonzales said. “So I think just leading by example and continuing to work hard and give it my all every game is the best. ... I know there were some guys who wish they could have played harder or done better or whatever, and I just don’t want to have any regrets so I want to every day continue to play as hard as I can and leave no regrets on the field.”
The Royals have taken a college middle infielder in the first round before under Dayton Moore, selecting Christian Colon as the fourth overall pick in 2010. Gonzales seems similar as a high-floor, low-ceiling hitter, although with his work ethic, he could surprise by surpassing any limitations put on him. The Royals have some depth up the middle, with Adalberto Mondesi, Nicky Lopez, and Whit Merrifield at the big league level, and selecting Bobby Witt, Jr. and Brady McConnell in last year’s draft. But if Gonzales continues to hit the way he has raked in the past year, any team would make room for his bat.