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Toolshed: Gorman wants to find perch with Cards

After Arenado trade, No. 38 overall prospect seeking positional fit
Nolan Gorman has hit 32 home runs over 188 games in the Minor Leagues. (Jeff Roberson/AP)
February 5, 2021

Blockbuster trades can send social media into a tizzy. Some fire off hot takes about how a transaction will establish the next dynasty in the sport or sink a franchise into ruin. Others play GM and discuss how they would have done the deal. It all mostly comes from a

Blockbuster trades can send social media into a tizzy. Some fire off hot takes about how a transaction will establish the next dynasty in the sport or sink a franchise into ruin. Others play GM and discuss how they would have done the deal. It all mostly comes from a place of fun.

It was in the midst of a such a tizzy -- when Nolan Arenado's trade from the Rockies to the Cardinals became official Monday night -- that another St. Louis third baseman -- with the same first name -- took to his Instagram stories to share his thoughts. "Does anyone know where Dustin Pedroia is and is he available for lessons on how to play second base?" The post was written in white letters with a Cardinal red background, and while wording and the Comic Sans font may have given it a humorous feel, the prospect in question wants to clarify one key detail.

"That post was half joking, half not," said Nolan Gorman, "and I think the only half-joking part was asking where Dustin Pedroia was."

For's newly ranked No. 38 overall prospect, Arenado's arrival -- as well as his pronouncement that he plans on being in St. Louis for a while -- directly affects Gorman's life. Namely, what position he might be calling home for the immediate and long-term future.

"Come Spring Training, we're gonna see what happens," he said. "But obviously, they've got a multi-Platinum Glove winner over there. So what am I? What am I going to do? I've got to find a new position. Whatever that is, wherever they want to put me, I'm gonna hit no matter what and become the best at that position that I possibly can. I'll have to work hard because it's obviously going to be something new."

Mere days after the depth chart put a massive roadblock in his path, Gorman talked to on Thursday about what comes next for him and others. The new plan might find him staying at third base for the near future in order to keep up the defensive momentum he picked up during his time working with infield coach José Oquendo at the Cardinals' alternate site at Double-A Springfield.

That's what adds another interesting layer to this positional discussion for Gorman. The left-handed slugger has been lauded for his plus to plus-plus power potential, but questions remain about his ability to stick to the hot corner due to a relative lack of range for the position, at least in the early stages of his career.

"As a young guy, I don't think I focused on defense as much as, you know, I do now," said the 2018 19th overall pick. "But ever since I got into pro ball, and especially big league Spring Training and having Oquendo at the alt site, I'm trying to make that a plus tool. It's huge. It only helps the team, and it obviously helps me if they can trust me."

Gorman says Oquendo's specialty was throwing every possible scenario at his third basemen. There were the early establishing drills, sure -- the short stuff from the knees, some minor footwork things here and there. But rarely were defensive workouts limited to line drives hit a foot away from the players. Oquendo instead stressed actual realistic and tough plays -- balls down the line or deep in the hole, spins, quick throws to get quick runners, the stuff kids might see in YouTube clips and try to recreate in the backyard. According to Gorman, it was "every single possible play that you could get in a game."

"All the greats, they're all practicing that, so that's something we really hammered, throwing from different arm angles and making the body fluid and smooth in the infield," said St. Louis' No. 3 prospect. "It just makes you more of a complete athlete rather than just getting ground balls straight at you or a little bit to your right, little bit to your left. Now you're spinning and throwing, jumping and throwing. That was definitely huge for me."

With an arm that was already graded as plus, all that comfort Gorman found and exhibited in Springfield was a big reason why he remains a top prospect in the Cardinals system. That said, the bat hasn't always been a given either, no matter the pop potential.

The Arizona native got off to a solid start at Class A Peoria in his first full season in 2019, hitting .325 with six homers and a 1.039 OPS over 21 games in April. Despite the cold weather in the Midwest League, he had come as advertised, tying for first on the circuit in total bases and second in home runs. By late June, Gorman's slash line had dropped to .241/.344/.448 over 67 games with the Chiefs. The power was still there, but strikeouts at 28.0 percent K rate were piling up as the pressure mounted to keep up his early success. The Cards promoted the then-19-year-old to Class A Advanced Palm Beach all the same, hoping that competing in the pitcher-friendly Florida State League would sharpen him further. The numbers were roughly the same in some respects (.256/.304/.428 over 58 games), but the FSL took away some of the long balls -- he hit five, half as many as with Peoria -- and his 31.7 percent strikeout rate remained high, even by modern standards.

Going into 2020, Gorman knew something was off.

"You go back to the beginning of 2019, and I was pretty much lights out offensively," he said. "And when you're performing, you want to try to get going up in the ranks -- not prospect rankings, but the Minor League levels. You're saying that you're doing so good, and you're asking, 'Why aren't they calling me up?' and stuff like that. So I think [my struggles] had a lot to do with where I was psychologically and me trying to force something. I was taking that into the games, and it just wasn't good. You can't do that in this game. That's all out of my control, getting called up to the next level and stuff like that. I learned that and had great opportunities that summer."

The solution was to recenter himself. Stop forcing the timeline and find the mental and physical balance that had the Cardinals and other prospect prognosticators dreaming of 30- or even 40-homer seasons from him at the top level. The fundamentals needed to start with his swing.

"Just starting as early as possible in my load," Gorman said. "Everything is so, so much simpler than we make it. We think it's this super complex thing, and it's really not. It's getting to the basics really. For me, that means my load needs to be pretty early so that I can get my foot down in time and be on time for that fastball. I'm able to adjust from there. Being early helps me see the ball a lot better and be able to pick up where it is, what pitch is coming in and how to make a good decision on whether or not I want to swing or not."

Knowing Gorman's potential, the Cards invited the young slugger to Major League Spring Training last year, and he didn't take long to prove his offense was more than just potential. Gorman went 8-for-26 (.308) in Grapefruit League play, striking out only five times despite the jump in competition. He also picked up three extra-base hits, including a homer off Mets reliever Stephen Nogosek on March 4.

Spring Training was shut down less than two weeks later as the coronavirus pandemic first swept across the country. As he headed out of Spring Training, he took a suggestion from Paul Goldschmidt to heart. The All-Star first baseman, who signed a five-year extension with St. Louis following his own trade from Arizona in December 2018, told Gorman to look into technology called Win Reality that simulates facing any Major League pitcher through a set of VR goggles. After thinking it over, Gorman had the device shipped to Springfield about halfway through his time at the alternate site. He has continued to use it to hone his hitting technique in his pandemic-related downtime.

"I think it's pretty fun," he said. "Facing like [Aroldis] Chapman or, you know, guys that throw gas, especially from the left side. Seeing that left on left is pretty fun. But really, I'm trying to switch it up and see everyone I can."

That could come in handy quickly. The Cardinals have yet to announce non-roster invitations to Spring Training, but Gorman is expected to get another one, following the impression he made at the alternate site. Where he will play is much more up in the air. Gorman might have been half-joking about tracking down Pedroia, but he is more than willing to give the former AL MVP's spot at second a try following all of his work on the dirt. He is also open to playing a corner outfield spot where his plus arm could be an asset, if it gets him in the same lineup as Arenado some day. Late Thursday's trade that sent Dexter Fowler to the Angels certainly cleared one spot on that end of the depth chart.

"Obviously Arenado is a great third baseman, and having him as a teammate only makes that lineup better," Gorman said. "I'll do whatever I have to do to get into that lineup. If that's playing second base -- obviously [Kolten] Wong signs with the different team and they have other infielders -- but if I can hit and put as much work as I can into ultimately second base, I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna grind until I become a really good defensive second baseman if that's where they need me. If they need me in the outfield, I'm going to work just as hard out there as I would, you know, anywhere else.

"If I'm hitting, that's my calling card. But if I can add a little bit of value to the second-base position or whatever, I'm down to do it."

Gorman admitted he'll have Wilson gloves of all sizes packed for his trip back to West Palm Beach, waiting to see what the organization has in store for what should have been his third full season. No jokes about it.

"It's a weird situation with what's going on right now and all the unknowns," Gorman said, "but as soon as the Cardinals tell me I can get on a plane and come out, I'll be there."

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