Tampa, FL- Nick Gordon looks like he’s eighty percent leg.
When he stepped to the plate, he laid off a fastball that was called for a strike. On the next pitch, he got a solid hit for a single. As he slinked away from the base, threatening to steal second, his legs looked almost independent of him. He went on to score on an error and exhibited a natural stride home.
Speed is one tool he’s fully confident is a weapon when he’s on the bases.
“It’s important for me to maintain,” Gordon said. “It’s a big part of my game.
Speed is just one of many “weapons” Gordon can utilize. The toolsy shortstop, who was drafted by the Minnesota Twins first round in 2014, can hit for average and power, has good range, and above average bat speed. He also showed good balance through his swing.
Ranked the number four prospect by Baseball America entering 2016, he’s in his first year with the High-A Fort Myers Miracle, having spent 2015 in the Midwest League where he finished the season leading the Cedar Rapids in hits (133) and RBI (58). In 25 games through June and July he’s knocked 10 RBI, and in 21 games this season he’s gotten multiple hits. He exhibited good discipline and pitch recognition that night, both of which he’s working to improve.
“I’m learning patience. You have to learn how to be selectively aggressive. You can’t be overly aggressive,” Gordon said. “It’s definitely a mind game.”
Miracle hitting coach Jim Dwyer has worked on those areas with Gordon, 20, whose abilities Dwyer observes as both natural and raw.
“His pitch selection is getting better. He has all the talent in the world,” Dwyer said. “As a hitter, he has to learn the strike zone and be disciplined. “We talk about it a lot. When you go the plate, you have to be selfish. Get the pitch you want.”
Part of what he’s trying to avoid is chasing pitches up in the zone, and he’s learning to stick with his plan. But Gordon’s also conscious of his health and staying consistent throughout a long season. The tendency to swing away is there, but whether he makes contact or not, he wants to feel he did his best in the situation.
“Even when you get in those lows and feel like you can’t hit, it’s all about quality at-bats,” he said.
Dwyer sees the potential of Gordon in a few different spots in the lineup, suggesting he’s got the goods to deliver in the leadoff spot, and further down in the two and three hole (where he’s primarily hitting). Gordon’s speed, as well as his ability to hit for contact and drive in runs opens up the possibilities for him on any team. But Dwyer also points out that Gordon shouldn’t put so much pressure on himself to produce.
“I’ll tell him, ‘No one expects you to get a hit every time.’ I know that he feels he wants to every time,” said Dwyer.
Like every young player, Gordon has high expectations for himself that can sometimes get in the way. He’s already good. But the desire to be perfect is hard to shake when you’re trying to prove your worth in a tough, uncertain business like baseball. Guys come and go. But Gordon, while aware of his high value in the Twins system, says he’s not really distracted by that noise. The one thing he feels he’s improved the most has helped him keep his mind focused and clear.
“The biggest thing has definitely maturity. I’ve learned a lot of things. People will tell you over and over, but you have to learn for yourself,” he said.
It’s all there, according to Dwyer. He’s doing all the things he needs to. It just takes time to put all the pieces together. But the hitting coach has the utmost confidence that Gordon is getting there.
“He’s got great instincts on the bases. He has the aggressiveness,” he said.
With Gordon being self-aware about “selective aggressiveness,” that can easily be another weapon on his way up.