Nick Gordon On His First Half, Futures Game And More
Image courtesy of Seth Stohs, Twins Daily (photo of Nick Gordon)The last twelve months have been a bit of a whirlwind for Nick Gordon as well. He finished his 2016 season at Ft. Myers. He went to the Arizona Fall League where he played quite well. He worked out with Hall of Famer Barry Larkin as well as All- Stars like his brother Dee Gordon, Francisco Liriano, and Carlos Gonzalez near his home in Orlando again. He attended Twins Fest in late January, and he earned an invitation to major league spring training where he presented himself well to the team and the coaching staff.
When Gordon was sent back to minor league camp, Twins manager Paul Molitor was complimentary. “Nick Gordon may be one of our best hitting prospects that we have, if you ask me. It was good to see him play. He didn't get a lot of chances, but I think he absorbed a lot. Got the chance to play some at short and second.”
Just as important, Nick Gordon got off to a nice start this year at Double-A Chattanooga. He’s been able to play well, and play consistently well, throughout the season. In April, he hit .322 with an .818 OPS. In May, he hit .294 with a .906 OPS. In June, he hit .313 with an .846 OPS.
He was named to the Southern League All-Star team, and then to the USA team in the Futures Game.
Recently, we were able to catch up with the Twins shortstop prospect to discuss his season, his success, his future and more.
While he has been kept busy and his life has been quite hectic the last week, he said, “Yeah, but it was fun though.”
The Futures Game has become a huge event of its own. Prospect hounds around the country and around the world love it. Fans love it, but according to Gordon, it’s something that players want to be a part of as well.
“I think it was a goal for me, in general, going into minor league baseball. You see so much about it. I think everyone who goes into minor league baseball wants to play in the Futures Game one day. For me, definitely. Seeing it, I always wanted to be there and actually being able to take part in that game was definitely fun for me.
However, it was also exciting for Gordon that the game was played in Miami. His family lives in Orlando so several were able to make it down for the game. Also, his older brother Dee plays for the Marlins. Obviously the team was out of a town on Sunday and an extra-innings game meant that Dee wasn’t able to get back in time to watch, but the Gordon name is known well down in South Florida.
“It was definitely nice being close to home. A lot of my family got to come. They were able to drive down to see the game. That was good. Just the fact that my brother plays in Miami, it made it that much better.”
Gordon was the USA team’s starting shortstop and leadoff batter. He had a single in three at-bats before exiting the game. He also made the plays at shortstop.
He really enjoyed it, and he enjoyed having the opportunity to play with and against other top prospects, many of whom he’s been on the field with before.
“I actually played with and against a lot of those guys in the minor leagues. It was just good to see them all again, see how they’re doing, and see how much better everyone gets each year.”
Immediately following the Futures Game, the celebrity softball game was played. That provided some pretty exciting moments for Gordon.
“I got to meet a couple of celebrities. I think Christina Milian was my favorite. I took a picture with her. That was pretty cool.”
About ten days before the end of spring training, Gordon was at his locker, packing up his things after being told he was being sent from big league camp to minor league camp. He had a smile on his face, and he told me that he has gained so much confidence.
He used that confidence, along with the work he put on in the offseason between the Arizona Fall League and big league camp, in his every game work. How did gaining the confidence translate onto the field? Gordon got off to a fast start and has been able to carry it consistently through the first three months of the season.
“Just being confident, knowing I can go out and play with anyone. I think that’s what made me be successful in the first half; knowing that I can just go out and be athletic and play my game. I know the work that I put in in the offseason and at big league camp and such. I just know that I have to trust it, and I think that was the biggest thing for me.”
As Gordon told us in January, he spent the offseason with a Who’s Who of All-Star Ballplayer, and the work they put in with him has paid off.
“We worked on driving more balls and things of that sort which definitely has played a part for me.”
The last two seasons, Gordon has hit 23 doubles. In approximately two-thirds of this season, he already has 22 doubles. He has reached six triples for the third straight year already. In his previous three years of professional baseball (approximately 1,260 plate appearances, he had a total of five home runs. He already has six homers in the Southern League this year (360 plate appearances). His Isolated Power has gone from .083 to .095 the previous two seasons to .162 in 2017.
Not only has he added power, his approach and plate discipline has improved. In 2016, he walked just 4.7% of his plate appearances. To this point in the 2017 season, he is walking at a 9.7% rate.
“It’s more at-bats, more plate appearances. The more you hit, the better you get at it. I wouldn't say anything about my approach. If anything, it’s more about me staying true to what I do.”
Gordon described the process he’s worked on to improve his plate approach which has also believes has led to power.
“It’s definitely the process. Just working. That all comes with seeing pitches better and swinging at pitches you want to swing at. All that plays a part. Just knowing you can hit. I think that’s the first thing. Then it goes to pitch selection. It’s definitely about ending an at bat on a pitch you want to end it on.”
But if there are questions about Gordon, it remains whether or not he’ll be able to stick at shortstop. While he has a good arm, some have questioned his range. It is another thing that he worked on with Larkin and Lindor and others in the offseason. Whether or not the statistics show it, Gordon feels good that the process and how he feels on defense has greatly improved.
“But mostly, we worked a lot defensively. Not so much looking at the numbers, but just knowing how you feel. I felt so much better defensively (in the first half). I felt like I moved through more balls. I felt I made more plays and there were more balls I was able to get to, and widen my range. I definitely feel like the work that we put in during the offseason on the defensive side of my game, it definitely started to work for me and starting to pay off. Just got to keep working and keep going with it.”
At the start of the season, Engelb Vielma was also in Chattanooga. Manager Jake Mauer had a plan in which Gordon played shortstop for a week, with Vielma at second base. The next week, the two would flip-flop roles. That system lasted about a month when Vielma was promoted to Rochester. Since then, Vielma and Gordon have both been playing shortstop nearly every day.
Fortunately, Gordon and Vielma both went into the situation with the right attitude, knowing they were gaining value by playing both positions.
“It’s always valuable to be able to play different positions. It’s definitely tough. It’s a grind, but it’s what I signed up for. I signed up to be challenged, and that’s what it was. It was a challenge. No matter what you do or where you’re playing at, you have to go out and give your all. That’s what I did, and that’s what I will continue to do.”
He also doesn’t feel that the time spent at second base hurt his development as a shortstop either.
“You can still do that (improve) when you’re moving around. It just comes to your work ethic and the person and doing more. You have to be up for early work at second or at short. You have to take ground balls at both positions. I feel like regardless of if I’m only playing shortstop or playing both second and shortstop, I can get better.“
The Chattanooga Lookouts have been playing incredible baseball for the last month. Since June 7th, the Lookouts are 26-6. The players have played well. The pitchers have pitched well. And many, including Gordon, give quite a bit of credit to their manager, Jake Mauer. Of course, many of the players on the Lookouts roster played for Mauer in Cedar Rapids in recent years.
“Jake is a great guy, a great manager. He helps us in every aspect of the game as well, as much as he can. I think playing for Jake, guys are more confident. You can go out and have fun. Jake understands. He was a player. He knows how it is. He doesn’t expect us to be perfect, but he expects us to play aggressive. He wants us to hustle and play everyday. I feel a lot of us are comfortable with Jake. I feel that team chemistry is a big thing for us as well.”
But Gordon should get some of the credit for team’s success too. While he’s just one of nine players in the lineup on a given day, we know that he’s lauded for his leadership abilities. In May, I talked to his high school teammate and very close friend Juan Hillman who is a pitcher in the Cleveland organization (Hillman, Gordon Share Bond of Brotherhood). Instead of talking about his tremendous baseball skills, Hillman talked about his leadership abilities as what helps make him successful. So what does being a leader entail to Gordon?
“I feel like a leader always leads, no matter what the situation is. I feel like if anything was to happen, I could take responsibility for what I chose to decide. Definitely with off the field stuff. On the field, guys like to follow a guy who likes to be in the tough situation, the challenge. I know that I love a challenge, and love having my back against the wall.”
So the question asked often in regard to Gordon is when can we expect to see him in the big leagues. How close is he to being ready? It’s a tough question for those of us who follow the Twins minor league system, and it’s probably an impossible question to ask Gordon. But I did it anyway, and his response was good. It was honest, and it was fair.
“Honestly, I wouldn't say I’m ready or not ready. Being in the big leagues, there are things you have to be consistent in doing. To be honest, I wouldn’t know if I’m ready or not ready. I think the Twins do a good job of scouting their own players and knowing when their players are ready. For me, it’s whatever they need, whenever they need me. Whatever I bring to the game, when they know that they need that, that’s when I’ll be ready and when my turn comes. But for now, there’s so much more to learn everyday. Even in the big leagues, there’s so much to learn in the game. My dad has told me that. So wherever I am, I want to continue to learn and continue to develop as a baseball player.”
It’s been a very successful first half of the 2017 season for Gordon, following an exciting, eventful offseason. But he fully understands that there is a lot of season left. So what are his goals the rest of the way?
“Staying healthy is definitely the big one. We all want to stay healthy and get through the season together. Make each other better. We all have a goal in life, and it starts here in Double-A as well. I think for us, to become better ballplayers and better professional athletes.”
Three years ago, Nick Gordon had just signed with the Twins after being the fifth overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft. When he arrived in Ft. Myers, he had a lot to learn about baseball, the organization, being a professional and more. He found a guy in Ft. Myers at that time who had been in his shoes just three years earlier.
“I actually talked to Buck (Byron Buxton) when I first got drafted. He was down there rehabbing. He came over and introduced himself and made me feel comfortable. Me and Buck are pretty cool. It was warm for him to introduce himself. I’d definitely heard a lot about him and how great of a player he was and is. It was comforting. I feel the same thing as me being here three years, if I was there, I’d definitely do it the same was as Buck did because if definitely made me feel like I was welcomed.
Now, it’s Gordon that’s been in the organization for three years. Last month, the Twins selected another highly touted, high ceiling, exciting high school player in Royce Lewis with the number one overall pick. What would Gordon tell or advise Lewis?
“I feel the same thing as me being here three years, if I was there, I’d definitely do it the same was as Buck did because if definitely made me feel like I was welcomed. “ He continued, “Just enjoy it and have fun. The Twins are a great organization, and I think they do it the right way. They surround you with great players and great staff members and coaches and such. So for me, it’s about just enjoying it. When I first got drafted, I was nervous like every kid. The more days I was there, the more I went through, you learn how great some of the guys in the organization are, and how much fun the organization is. So you enjoy it. It’s definitely a once in a lifetime thing, and it’s definitely a blessing to be drafted by the Minnesota Twins.”
We are likely to hear all kinds of rumors over the next few weeks. The Twins need pitching, and the types of trades that they would, at least in theory, like to make would involve pitchers the team would have in the organization for multiple years. That will require some high-end prospect talent in return. While I think it is highly unlikely that Gordon would be traded, don’t be surprised if you hear his name mentioned in several rumors.
As Nick Nelson pondered in his most recent trade deadline primer article, Should Nick Gordon be on the table? You can answer that for yourself, and obviously it’s a question that Derek Falvey and Thad Levine will likely be asked by other teams a lot in coming weeks.
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