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New Mexico State walk-on Nick Gonzales becomes first-round MLB draft pick

New Mexico State walk-on Nick Gonzales becomes first-round MLB draft pick
The Pittsburgh Pirates selected New Mexico State junior shortstop Nick Gonzales with the seventh overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. (Courtesy: @NMStateBaseball/Twitter)

LAS CRUCES, N.M. ⁠(BVM) — All of the players taken in last month’s Major League Baseball draft will have to prove themselves worthy of a spot on a big-league roster.

New Mexico State University shortstop Nick Gonzales, who was taken seventh overall by the Pittsburgh Pirates, is already used to proving himself.

The 5-foot-10 All-American infielder is widely considered to be the best pure hitter in this year’s draft class, but just a few years ago he didn’t even know if he would make the Aggies’ roster as a freshman. The Cienega High School (Vail, Ariz.) grad received only two offers to play college baseball — a scholarship from Austin Peay and a chance to join New Mexico State as a walk-on. Gonzales chose the latter, less-sturdy option and didn’t need much time to prove any doubters wrong.

Not only did Gonzales make the team for NMSU as a freshman, he earned first-team all-conference honors in the Western Athletic Conference and was named the WAC Freshman of the Year after batting .347 with nine home runs while helping the Aggies win the conference and reach the NCAA Tournament.

“Coming here, I really wanted to show them I can play here and I’m gonna play here,” Gonzales said in a January interview with Aggie Vision. “That’s kind of what I did every single day was prove to them, I’m here for a reason, I’m going to play, and I’m going to help this team win.

“I just wanted to prove to those coaches — not only here but the coaches all over — that I was a good player and I wanted to play — and I wanted to play at a high level.”

The big freshman season opened some eyes, but Gonzales truly broke out as a sophomore. In 2019, he claimed the NCAA batting title with a .432 average and collected 16 home runs and 80 RBIs while recording a .532 on-base percentage and .773 slugging percentage. He was named an All-American by Baseball America, ABCA/Rawlings and NCBWA.

Still, there was some skepticism that Gonzales’ big numbers could in part be a product of New Mexico’s high altitude. But he proved himself again that summer against the best college players in the country when he was named the Cape Cod League MVP after slashing .351/.451/.630 and hitting seven home runs while reaching base in all but one of the 42 games played for the Cotuit Kettleers.

“For me, it was so important and crucial for the next level,” Gonzales told MLB.com. “Going there was the X-factor for me. I really had to go out there and do well, and fortunately, I was able to do well.”

Gonzales was on pace for a monster junior year with the Aggies, who were off to a 12-1 start before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through 16 games, he led the nation with 12 homers and 36 RBIs and was batting .448 with a .610 OBP through 58 at-bats.

Prior to the draft, his MLB Pipeline prospect ranking had skyrocketed all the way up to No. 5 overall. He’s even more highly-regarded by NMSU coach Mike Kirby.

“I would say of all the players that I’ve ever coached, he’s by far the most mature, disciplined,” Kirby told MLB.com. “It’s not close.”

His performance in less than 2 ½ full seasons with New Mexico State did a lot more than prove doubters wrong. It turned him into a star Pirates prospect who appears to have a bright future as a major leaguer.

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