Nick Gordon is hitting the cover off the ball in Chattanooga.
Through play Thursday, Gordon is hitting .342/.381/.542 with nine doubles, three triples, and three home runs for the Twins’ Double-A affiliate. If this were his first year in Double-A, it would be a nice start for the consensus top 100 prospect. Gordon, though, is in his second year with the Lookouts, after hitting .270/.341/.408 in 122 games last season as one of the youngest regulars in the Southern League.
Although a late-season slump brought down his overall numbers, Gordon was among the best hitters in his league through most of last season, and started at shortstop in the Futures Game in July. Even after the slump, his final offensive numbers were solid, and mirrored what he’d done at each level of the minor leagues. Prior to this season, those numbers had always earned him a promotion to a higher level the following year.
In my view, Gordon “conquered” Double-A last year. He hit well at a young age, stayed healthy, and was a key player on a championship team. The Twins, though, opted to send him back to start 2018. Now, more than a month into the season, he’s crushing Double-A pitching again. It’s hard to see what more he has to prove.
There are a few arguments one could make for returning him to Chattanooga after spring training.
The first is the Twins wanted him to demonstrate, after a rough final two months, that the first half of last season wasn’t a fluke. His numbers suggest he’s done that.
The second is they wanted to send him to a place he felt comfortable to open the season. Stephen Gonsalves said last week that was part of the rationale for sending him back to Double-A to open his year. Gordon knows Chattanooga, it’s warmer than Rochester, and there are fewer postponements. While it may have made sense to keep him there in April, the weather in the Northeast has been warm the past three weeks.
The third is they want Gordon to continue to develop his glove at shortstop, where questions remain about his ability to stick defensively. Perhaps they feel a lower level helps relieve some of the pressure as he continues to iron out defensive kinks. So far this season, his range factor is up over last year, though it’s impossible to know what impact, if any, repeating Double-A has had on his defense. Playing at a higher minor league level certainly wouldn’t preclude him from continuing to develop his glove.
After more than a year facing Double-A arms, the Twins need to see what Gordon can do against Triple-A pitching. While the talent level is arguably higher in Double-A–as that’s often where teams stash top prospects–Triple-A pitching is a closer approximation to what he’ll see in the big leagues. Most players will tell you seasoned Triple-A pitchers have a more refined plan on how to attack hitters and get outs than Double-A prospects. Facing veteran pitchers with big league experience would serve Gordon well before he makes the jump to the Majors.
The elephant in the room, of course, is whether he should be in Minnesota right now, with Miguel Sano’s continued absence and Ehire Adrianza struggling at the plate. You could make an argument, based on the time it’s taken Sano to come back from leg injuries in the past and the organization’s lack of middle infield depth, that Gordon should have been summoned as soon as Sano hit the DL. The Twins, after all, were willing to plug then-prospect Jorge Polanco in at shortstop last year even with a questionable glove and limited time at the position. Gordon could have gotten his feet wet in the big leagues, then gone to Triple-A to continue his development once Sano returned. Making that move would be aggressive, and perhaps they felt the 22-year-old simply wasn’t ready for it.
Either way, though, it’s time for Gordon to move on from Chattanooga.