Southern notes: Gordon gaining versatility

Twins shortstop prospect seeing time at second in Lookouts debut

Nick Gordon is hitting .322/.392/.433 with three doubles, two triples, a homer and 12 RBIs in 23 Double-A games. (Brian McLeod/MiLB.com)

By Guy Curtright / Special to MiLB.com | May 4, 2017 10:00 AM ET

Nick Gordon got a family scouting report on Chattanooga and the Southern League before the Twins' No. 1 prospect began the season with the Double-A Lookouts.

After all, Marlins second baseman Dee Gordon -- Nick's half-brother -- experienced both in 2010 while stealing a league-best 53 bases and being picked for the All-Star Game while Chattanooga was a Dodgers affiliate.

"He said the league was really competitive, which you'd expect moving up, and that Chattanooga was a great town with a lot of good fans," the Lookouts middle infielder said. "He had a lot of fun playing here and so have I so far. It's been great."

The younger Gordon has certainly been an early fan favorite at AT&T Field. How could he not be with the way he has hit at his home ballpark?

Gordon, ranked No. 44 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects, delivered a walk-off hit in extra innings for the Lookouts in the second game of the season and had a .397 batting average in his first 15 home games with a .438 on-base percentage and .534 slugging mark.

The 21-year-old son of former Major League pitcher Tom Gordon hadn't come close to those numbers on the road, but he still had an impressive .322/.392/.433 line overall. The left-handed hitter had three doubles, two triples and a homer while driving in 12 runs from the top of the order and had almost as many walks (11) as strikeouts (19).

Video: Nick Gordon leads off with a triple for Chattanooga

Nick Gordon doesn't have Dee's speed, but he's much further along as a hitter than when the older Gordon reached Chattanooga as a 22-year-old. Dee, though, was up with the Dodgers by the next season and won the National League batting title with a .333 average in 2015 after a trade to Miami.

There are pros and cons to being from an established baseball family. Nick, the No. 5 overall pick in the 2014 Draft, has handled it all without a glitch.

"Nick's his own person. He doesn't try to be anyone else," said Chattanooga manager Jake Mauer, who knows about having a familiar name thanks to brother Joe with the Twins. "His family gives him the leeway to be himself, and I think that's important. Nick is confident in his own ability and who he is."

Gordon played nearly exclusively at shortstop his first three seasons, including a year under Mauer at Cedar Rapids in the Midwest League in 2015. This season he started eight of his first 21 games in the field at second base because the Lookouts also feature 22-year-old defensive whiz Engelb Vielma, another shortstop by trade who is batting .325.

"It's fun," Gordon said of being paired with the Twins' No. 29 prospect and playing both sides of the middle infield. "I've learned from him, and I think he's learned from me as well. We push each other, and I think we've definitely developed some chemistry, no matter which side we're on. I don't think it's really been that hard for either of us to switch. We both have a lot of fun on the field."

"They've been really good and turned some big double plays," Mauer said. "I think it's beneficial for both of them to get the experience of playing a different position. It can only help later on."

Dee Gordon made it to the Majors at 23. Nick's timetable could be similar.

"Nick's always been confident and had a good feel for the game," Mauer said. "He still needs to get stronger, which he will, but I think he's just a little more comfortable with everything now. He's off to a really good start, and I just see him continuing on."

Dee was a Chattanooga fan favorite seven years ago. Nick already is this season thanks to his parade of hits at AT&T Field.

In brief

No small gain: Getting a big boost from their new nickname and logo, the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp are off to a record start in attendance as well as merchandise sales. The team drew a franchise-best 41,276 for their first series at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville, including 10,477 on Opening Day, and followed that up with 28,904 for their second five-game set. For the first 10 home dates, the Jumbo Shrimp averaged 7,018 fans -- the most in the Southern League and all of Double-A. Birmingham was second in the SL with an average of 6,645. As the Suns, Jacksonville averaged 4,197 fans last year and ranked fourth behind Birmingham, Pensacola and Tennessee.

A win at last: Tennessee right-hander Duane Underwood, the Chicago Cubs' No. 15 prospect, got credit for his first victory in more than 22 months when he allowed three hits over five scoreless innings at Chattanooga on April 24. The second-round pick in the 2012 Draft had made 25 starts since his last win on June 16, 2015 as he battled elbow and forearm issues. Underwood, 22, followed up the victory with a no-decision at Mississippi on April 29 and was 1-1 with a 3.60 ERA after four starts, striking out 17 and walking four over 20 innings.

Continued success: Jackson had the best regular-season record in the Southern League last year and topped things off by sweeping Mississippi in the Championship. The Generals are now an Arizona affiliate, rather than a Seattle farm team, but the winning hasn't stopped. Jackson had the league's best record at 15-9 through five series thanks mostly to an offense that was tops in batting average (.288), on-base percentage (.365) and slugging (.468). The Generals had 29 homers, and outfielder Victor Reyes led the SL with a .365 batting average.

All or nothing: Outfielder Adam Brett Walker, who led the Southern League with a Chattanooga-record 31 homers in 2015, found himself back in Double-A two years later despite 27 homers with Triple-A Rochester last year. Claimed off waivers from Minnesota by Atlanta, Walker struggled to make contact the first two weeks with Gwinnett, and that continued to be an issue with Mississippi. He had three homers through his first 10 games with the M-Braves, but was batting .143. Walker, 25, fanned 195 times two years ago and had 202 strikeouts last season.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to MiLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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