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From MinnCentric

Twins Have Utmost Confidence In Nick Gordon

As a self-proclaimed baseball analyst, I can say that there is nothing more difficult to gauge than a minor league prospect. There is little information available at the fingertips compared to major league players. But beyond that, there is perhaps nothing more difficult to gauge than a prospect at rookie ball where the data, video and observations are as rare as fine dining in their clubhouse.

That said, a recent review of MLBFarm.com’s statistical warehouse -- a website which is enhancing and forwarding the availability of previously unknown data -- revealed that a majority of the balls put in play by Twins prospect and first round draft Nick Gordon were going to left field, a curiosity considering the newly added shortstop was a left-handed hitter.

With the data from MLBFarm.com showing an overwhelming tendency for Gordon to go to the other way, a review of his swing was prompted. It could be the lefty had the penchant of simply going the other way with pitches. It could also be that the recent high schooler was struggling with the professional competition that had ability to throw better fastballs to better locations than he had previously seen.

Because of this chart:

Attached Image: Nick Gordon_HeatMap.png

And video from Baseball America that showed contact like this on a fastball that indicating the contact deep into the zone:

It is hard not to ask the question whether or not Gordon is having trouble adapting to the pro game. After all, he is not far removed from high school where pitchers rarely humped it up to 90 miles an hour. Suddenly he is playing in a league littered with 90+ arms (albeit without the tools and knowledge to exploit every weakness). Was he struggling to pull the ball at the same 40% clip that left-handed hitters do at the major league level?

This is not to say that he is struggling. On the contrary, his statistics are quite good. At 18.67 years old, he is the 13th youngest member of the Appalachian League and is batting .318/.364/.402 -- which is about what Byron Buxton batted in his season at that level. What’s more, while the rest of the league-- in which the average player is 20.2 years old-- his hitting .256, he is besting that batting average by 24%. So even if pro fastballs are giving him fits, he’s done more than expected against them so far. Nevertheless, I had to present my theory to others in the organization in case there was some validity to it.

First, I attempted to contact Ray Smith, the manager of the Elizabethton Twins, for a quick conversation regarding Gordon’s hitting tendencies. I wondered if there was something he saw on a nightly basis which explained this attribute. Was he trying to hit the other way, was his swing long or were pitchers simply trying to pitch him away?

After a detailed email describing the aforementioned concern and this caveat that this was based on a small sample size with little visual evidence, Smith’s response came back short and sweet: “Absolutely no concerns with Nick’s bat speed.”

Following his manager’s approval, I contacted Mike Radcliff, the Twins’ Vice President of Player Personnel, who happened to be following the Elizabethton team on the road for the past week. Radcliff’s testimony echoed the the manager's -- there was no issue with Gordon’s bat speed in terms of catching up to this league’s fastballs. In fact, as Radcliff said, the Twins had seen Gordon face plenty of pitchers who threw harder than the competition in the Appalachian League while he was in high school and performing in national showcases.

“He’s hitterish,” Radcliff said. “He’s gonna hit.”

Like Smith and the rest of the Twins evaluators, he believed because of Gordon's quick hands, similar to Buxton's, and his young age, he would be progressing offensively as he developed his “man muscles” as he reaches the legal drinking age. His observations were that Gordon has the ability to add extra-base potential based on his quick hands and eventual growth both physically and mentally.

When asked if there was anything to explain the current data that suggested Gordon was unable to consistently pull the ball, Radcliff rightfully questioned the data size. “Had it been a 30-year-old veteran, then you might make that conclusion,” he said.

Radcliff said that he views Gordon’s defense as more of a focal point for improvement than his offense. For Gordon, the immediate road ahead involved working on his footwork and his pivot at second base on the double play. His raw natural skill -- arm and speed -- would help him cover some of those weaknesses for the time being.

What Radcliff emphasized about Gordon’s development is that he comes a strong “gene pool” -- the son of a former major league pitcher and brother to a current major league shortstop.

“You value the gene,” Radcliff said in a candid scouting moment regarding Gordon’s lineage. “When you come from a major league gene, that’s what it is all about. There’s a great value at the beginning of their careers and a feeling that they won’t be overmatched.”

Gordon is not likely to see any time above rookie ball this year, but he’s got a vote of confidence from the organization that he will be a major league starter and, perhaps, an All-Star like his brother.

For more on Nick Gordon and the Minnesota Twins, listen to this week's No Juice Podcast.

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