In His Words: Nick Gordon's 2016 Season
Image courtesy of Mark J. Rebilas, USA Today (photos of Nick Gordon)“For as long as I can remember, baseball was always something I wanted to play. My brother loved basketball, but I always wanted to be a baseball player,” Nick continued. “I played different sports, but since I was three or four years old, as long as I can remember, I had a bat in my hand. I always tried to follow my dad and follow my brother to the baseball field, so I always knew I wanted to be a baseball player.”
His path involves a terrific career at Olympia High School in Orlando. He became the first-round pick of the Minnesota Twins, the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft. Upon signing, he jumped straight to Elizabethton where he was much younger than most players in the league. The same is true of his first full season, 2015 in the Midwest League.
Gordon went into the season knowing that he had to do something, work much harder, to push through what can be a long, difficult season in the heat and humidity of the Florida State League. Gordon put on 15 pounds of good muscle.
Of last offseason, he said he “learned about resting, eating and maturing in the game. I’m from Florida, I know it’s hot. You know that you have to put on extra weight and extra pounds because later on in the season, you’re going to shed some pounds.
Beyond that, Gordon said, “And, you’re going to get days when you’re tired and feeling sluggish, and the extra work in the offseason helps for days like that.”
While he came into the 2016 season without any specific number goals, Gordon had some key goals for the year that come in more general terms. “Staying healthy is always a goal. It’s kind of in and out of your control, but it’s always a goal. I would definitely say consistency and things for that sort, good at-bats, going out and winning ball games.”
While the 2016 Miracle did not win either half of its season, they did combine for a 70-68 record overall. Gordon had a good season. He hit .291/.335/.386 (.721) with 23 doubles, six triples and three home runs.
Gordon was playing shortstop behind that impressive group of starting pitcher prospects that started the season in Ft. Myers. “They came out every day and competed and gave us a chance. That’s why we got off to the start that we did. Being behind (Stephen) Gonsalves, (Tyler) Jay, (Kohl) Stewart, those guys really throw the ball, and it was amazing to watch. To be honest, Felix Jorge was the most impressive to me. Every single time, and even last year, every time he takes the mound, it’s special.”
Gordon and Jorge have also been teammates since 2014.
Of his 2016 season, Gordon said, “A lot of good things happened, and a lot of bad things happened that I also learned from.”
One of those good things for Gordon was being named a starter at shortstop in the Florida State League All-Star Game which was played at Hammond Stadium, home of the Miracle.
“It definitely was fun. A lot of my family got to get out because it was close to home. They all got to see me play. I had fun. It was a blast. I played with some guys that are going to be great in this game, and a lot of guys who really love to compete and play the game hard. So it was definitely a great time.”
Gordon noticed a difference between pitchers in the Midwest League and pitchers in the Florida State League. Specifically, he saw more and more of a tough pitch that hitters need to adapt to.
“Pitchers definitely have a little better idea, and that’s every single level that you go to. They’re going to have a better idea. I saw a lot more cutters this year that you wouldn’t see elsewhere, like Low A and Rookie Ball. You definitely start seeing it in High-A, and it’s a very effective pitch. You’ve got to learn how to make adjustments on it. The cutter was definitely a challenge, but making the adjustments and starting to see the pitch and recognize the pitch helped me get ready for the next level.”
Being in Florida, his parents were able to see him often during the season. With his brother playing across the peninsula with the Marlins, it was a lot more difficult.
“My brother’s first game back (following suspension), I was able to go. We had a day off, so I was able to go there. That was pretty much it. Normally on a day off, I was getting rest and it turned into a thing where our schedules wouldn’t line up. My parents were always back and forth between Miami and Ft. Myers to see us. I definitely got to see my family a lot. Off days were spent well.”
As the season was coming to an end, Gordon found out late in the season that he was going to the Arizona Fall League. (For much more on his time in the Fall League, click here.) Gordon hit a robust .346/.418/.444 (.862) with four doubles and two triples in his 21 games.
Following the Fall League, Gordon took almost two weeks off, “just kind of hanging with my family.”
At that point, he began his 2016/17 offseason work, doing many of the same things he did a year earlier, but to a new level. “I started my lifts, and then right after that, we were right back to ground balls and hitting in the cage. I worked out with Barry Larkin, Francisco Lindor, my brother and guys like that. They started, so I couldn't let them get too far ahead of me.”
As baseball celebrates its new Hall of Fame class. Gordon is working out again with Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, as he has in previous years, in Orlando. Each day, Gordon is a sponge, observing everything and asking a ton of questions.
“Everything that Mr. Larkin teaches, you know, I don’t want to miss that. I took two weeks, began working out, and we’ve been getting after it ever since then. Five days a week. We take Fridays and Saturdays off, depending on the week and if people had anything going on. We’re out there from about 9-2 every day. We definitely get after it.”
Gordon continued, “I ask as many questions as I can. I like to watch Francisco (Lindor) and the way he does things. That’s the player I would love to be one day. Just to see the things that he’s able to do with the glove and the bat. I try to take a lot of things from him. And just to hear Mr. Larkin talk, he’s got so much wisdom. He can look at anyone taking a ground ball or anyone swinging a bat. He’ll be able to see things, and he doesn’t come up and tell you that you have to change your swing. He’ll help work with your swing. He’ll be there to be hands on. He’s definitely one of the most influential people in my baseball career, right after my dad and my brother. He’s been there for me, and I definitely am thankful for being able to work with them.”
And there is a new participant at these Larkin group this year, someone else that Gordon can watch and learn from. “And, we started hitting with Carlos Gonzalez this year, so now we get to see the power too.”
In recent weeks, Gordon got a phone call telling him that the Twins were inviting him to big league spring training as a non-roster invite. That Twins don’t just hand out spring training invites to young players unless they feel that the player can contribute and contribute fairly soon.
“Brad (Steil) called. I was stoked about it. I called my dad. I called my mom. They were both very excited. It’s an honor and a blessing to get the invite to spring training, big league camp,” Gordon said. “It’ll be good to be around the veterans of the game, the veteran coaches in the game. It’s going to be a great experience. I’m definitely looking forward to it.”
He’s got some goals for 2017 and also knows what the key is to his success.
“Strength, definitely. I feel like strength will help me improve a lot of things in my game in the field and at the plate. Defensively, consistency. Getting my body in the right positions and making sure to do everything right. I always practice while preparing.”
2017 will be a big year for Gordon. He turned 21 years old in October, so he’ll be one of the youngest players in the Southern League next year. Many believe that the jump from A ball to AA ball is difficult, the most difficult. He has the talent to succeed, and his maturity and understanding of the game will only help.
Twins Minor League Director Brad Steil on Nick Gordon's tools: "Nick does a lot of things well and has the potential to grow in all areas of the game. His swing and hit skills are probably what stand out for most people. I think he has shown the ability to hit high end pitching and we also think he will develop power as he physically matures and gets stronger. Overall, Nick has an advanced feel for the game and I think we see that on both sides of the ball."
Some in the industry question whether or not Gordon can stick at shortstop long-term. Here is Steil's response on that. "Defense is something that Nick works very hard at and he continues to show progress at SS. I have seen him make plays in the hole and I think his arm strength will improve as he gets stronger. With young shortstops, I think it’s normal to see some inconsistency in their play, and we’ve seen some of that with Nick along the way. However, as he gains experience and continues to learn the nuances of the position, I think we’ll see him iron out some of those mistakes and develop into a reliable major league defender."
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