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Twins' Gordon relies on strong family ties

No. 91 overall prospect ready for '16 after turbulent first full season
March 13, 2016

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- In some special cases in sports, the name on the back of the jersey can be a burden to performing well for the name on the front. Moving beyond the shadow of a relative's legacy isn't easy when you're known as "so-and-so's kid" everywhere you go.

But Twins No. 5 prospect Nick Gordon is embracing being the third pro ballplayer in line in his immediate family. Father Tom spent 21 seasons in the Majors as a starter and reliever, while brother Dee led the big leagues in hits and stolen bases in is his first season with the Marlins.

Take his Twitter handle. His dad was nicknamed "Flash" after the popular comic-book hero. His brother can be found at @FlashGJr on the social media site. So, naturally, the youngest Gordon's handle is @FlashGThe3rd. He may go by his dad's nickname for a while, and that's OK by him.

"I don't mind it all. I actually love it," Gordon said of the moniker. "To have a name like that and being able to grow up with a dad in baseball, it means a lot."

Gordon isn't shy about how much he uses his family tree to his advantage. Beyond just hitting the genome jackpot, he taps into his familial network as much as he can. This offseason, the two Gordon brothers worked out together in their hometown of Orlando and used Hall of Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, who lives down the street from their father, as a tutor. That's good help for a pair of middle infielders. This spring, Tom Gordon hasn't stopped teaching just because his son is in Twins camp, as he made an appearance at the Minor League complex in Fort Myers on Saturday.

"It definitely helps out a lot," Nick Gordon said. "My dad and my brother, they know exactly what they're talking about. They've been through it, they're going through it. It's always good to have someone to talk to like, and you have to listen to them because they know best."

But there are other examples beyond heeding advice.

After being drafted fifth overall by the Twins out of an Orlando-area high school in 2014, Gordon struggled out of the gate in his first full season, producing a .230/.305/.281 line over his first two months at Class A Cedar Rapids. His contact wasn't incredibly loud, either, as a heavy dose of ground balls led to a .289 BABIP and .051 ISO. It was then that the left-handed hitter decided his high school approach wasn't going to cut in the pros.

"With moving up, seeing better competition, better arms, you can't go into it with the same mentality from the season before," Gordon said. "I kinda did that. It's part of the game -- progressing, developing, you have to learn from it.

"A lot of it was just making adjustments. Every pitcher isn't the same, every team isn't the same, every pitch isn't the same. You gotta go out and make adjustments to the game with every pitch, and I wasn't doing that. I was staying with what I knew. But as the season went on, I made those adjustments and smoothed things out."

His line improved to .304/.355/.406 over 75 games in the final three-plus months of the season, with his BABIP and ISO jumping to .358 and .102 over that span, thanks to an increase in line drives as he caught up to full-season pitching.

It was Gordon's ability to adapt and grow, as well as an ability to remain a plus defender while struggling at the plate, that pleased the Twins the most. And they believe part of that comes from seeing the ups and downs of the game up close.

"It's been a real positive for him, to be around the game his whole life and know how pro ball works," Twins director of player development Brad Steil said. "He's got a good feel for everything, good knowledge of the game. And that comes from having a good support system."

With Gordon's initial struggles out of the way, Minnesota hopes the best is yet to come for the 20-year-old. Team officials believe he'll stick at shortstop -- gives him plus grades for his arm and fielding tools at the position -- and perhaps add a little speed as he gets stronger, noting what they saw from fellow infielders Jorge Polanco and Engelb Vielma at similar points.

Perhaps foolishly, Gordon decided to test his run tool by challenging his brother, one of the Majors' fastest players, to a race over the winter and said he did better than perhaps anyone would have thought.

"It actually went good for me because he didn't expect me to be that fast, so he slowed up at the beginning and I got him in the first one," Gordon said. "Then, he realized, 'All right, it's time to go now,' and he got me in the second. But it wasn't by much."

Asked to name the biggest thing he's learned from his ballplaying kin -- besides that lesson in speed -- Gordon's response was simple.

"Have fun and seize the moment," he said. "It's a blessing to play pro ball, so you definitely have to take advantage of every chance you get and enjoy it."

Perhaps it's fitting that Gordon's next stop in the Twins system is likely to be Class A Advanced Fort Myers in the Florida State League, which should mean a few more visits from dad and a few more lessons.

"That," Gordon said, "is gonna be fun."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB.