After all, Gonzales already has 10 home runs in just 13 games this season. Three weeks into the spring, it's an anomaly when he doesn't go deep.
Gonzales' numbers are simply mind-boggling. He leads all of Division I in all three triple crown categories: home runs, batting (.590), and RBIs (37 … in just 28 at-bats). Not surprisingly, he also leads the country in slugging (1.213), runs (28), total bases (74) and hits per game (2.77). Certainly it's worth noting that New Mexico State plays in one of the nation's most extreme hitters' park, and the entire team has feasted (to the tune of a .408 batting average and 29 homers) against overmatched early-season competition - although Texas Southern and Yale were our preseason picks to win their respective leagues, and the Aggies won seven of eight against them, scoring 13 or more runs in all seven wins.
But caveats aside, Gonzales has performed at an unbelievable level. On a team full of dangerous, disciplined, veteran hitters, Gonzales has become the unstoppable centerpiece.
"His numbers are incredible, but he's really within his own zone, he has tremendous bat speed. And right now if the ball is in his zone, he's not missing it," New Mexico State coach Brian Green said. "Yale had an unbelievable dramatic shift, they used four outfielders against him, twice when they did that he just flipped the ball to the right side to lead the inning off. It was pretty cool."
That kind of maturity is uncommon for a young slugger - heck, even 15-year big leaguers struggle to slap balls the other way to beat the shift. But for Gonzales, it helps that he was a natural born hitter first; he didn't grow up as a feast-or-famine slugger. He's just 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, after all - the Aggies certainly never envisioned him becoming this kind of power threat on the recruiting trail, when Gonzales only drew offers from Austin Peay and NMSU out of Arizona's Cienega High School.
"He was not recruited by many schools. For me to tell anybody when they ask, 'Did you guys see this coming on the recruiting process?' Absolutely not - are you out of your mind?" Green said. "We knew he was a great makeup guy, we thought he'd play center field or second base, we thought he was mentally tough and a baseball rat. His family is unbelievably supportive, it's everything you look for. That was the piece about him coming in here was the makeup part, and you're seeing it now, he's getting everything he's earned."
Green has no shortage of stories to illustrate Gonzales' work ethic. He tells of running a hitting camp for high school players in December, and at lunch break, all the other kids were eating their sandwiches - but Gonzales wanted to pick Green's brain about hitting approaches. He tells of Friday nights in the offseason, when the rest of the Aggies were going out to the movies, and Gonzales was bringing his own exterior lighting to the batting cages and working on a tee by himself.
"That's Nick, he's the ultimate guy who's going to be a lifelong learner, and nobody's gonna get in his way," Green said. "He's clearly one of the best players in this part of the country today, but that's not the way he views it. He thinks like, 'I'd better show up and work hard or I'm gonna lose my job."
So how did Gonzales go from an overlooked, undersized high school player who was content to push the ball the other way at the plate, to one of the most dangerous sluggers in college baseball? Green remembers the "Eureka!" moment when he realized there was more to Gonzales than meets the eye.
"I remember a story with Nick, we were in the cage late in the fall [of his freshman year], we were just doing some drill work, doing some high tee stuff, some exaggerated top hand stuff," Green said. "And the ball started coming off his bat different. You have those moments with your hitters where you kind of look at each other, you both see something. I said, 'Nick, I think you have a chance to have real power, are you aware of that?' He said, 'I guess, I dunno, I never really considered that.' I said, 'You have a chance to have real power.' That was something I never saw on the recruiting process. I saw a good player from a good family with character. But I remember that moment when it changed, the ball started jumping off the bat with backspin.
"Then three months later, he's not a starter, he gets his first real shot in Tucson, one of our players made a couple errors. The first pitch he sees in Tucson, he hammers the ball off the wall, you hear it - BOOM! - he slides in, pops up, pumps his fist, he's yelling loud. A kid from Tucson having a moment like that. He didn't come off the field after that, and next thing you know he's a unanimous freshman All-American."
Indeed, Gonzales went on to hit .347/.425/.596 with nine homers, 17 doubles and 35 RBIs in 57 games as a freshman. Very good numbers … and yet he's already exceeded last year's home run and RBI totals in just 13 games as a sophomore. He's even driving the ball out to all fields - Green estimated that five or six of his 10 homers have gone to left field, his pull side, but that another four or five have gone out to center or right-center.
And if that's not enough, Gonzales has improved by leaps and bounds as a defender at second base. Gonzales and shortstop Joey Ortiz (who is hitting .463 himself) have pushed each other hard to see who can become the better player, Green said, and they have become a superb middle infield tandem. That's a big reason New Mexico State leads the nation with 16 double plays.
"When we recruited him, we really thought as a second-year player, he'd be a starter in center field. That's what we projected him at," Green said. "He was a shortstop who could catch, played some center field in high school. But that was our projection, center. Last year at second base he was just OK, but he was so good offensively he wasn't coming out. His double play turn, he only had one, he could only step back at second base. He was really only skilled going to his left, he struggled going backhand side or any ball that was a slow roller. But now if you profile him, I think you're looking at a legitimate offensive big league second baseman. Now he can really turn it, we lead the nation in double plays. His backhand has improved dramatically, last year he struggled with that. He can throw from different arm slots. These are all throws he didn't have. I think he profiles there now, as a legit plus-armed, plus-exchange second baseman, and he's very athletic."
He's even improved his speed. Green said he typically got from home to first in 4.4-plus seconds last year, but now he's getting up the line in 4.3 - and Green said he thinks next year it'll be down to 4.15 or 4.2, as he continues to improve his strength and athleticism. Green sent Gonzales to Cotuit in the Cape Cod League at the end of last summer to work on his basestealing skills with Kettleers coach Mike Roberts, who excels at teaching that particular skill. Gonzales is slated to return to Cotuit to focus on his baserunning even more next summer - although there's a legitimate chance he could start off the summer with Team USA's Collegiate National Team.
And who would have thought two years ago that Gonzales would find himself on Team USA's radar? Who would have thought he'd turn himself into a potential premium prospect by the time he was a sophomore? At the rate he's improving, it's fun to imagine what Gonzales will be in another five years.
But for now, it's fun for Green and the rest of the Aggies just to watch Gonzales terrorize opposing pitching on a nightly basis.
||D1Baseball.com is your online home for college baseball scores, schedules, standings, statistics, analysis, features, podcasts and prospect coverage.