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Twins prospect Nick Gordon talks defense, baserunning, and adjusting to Triple-A

Since he was drafted No. 5 overall in 2014, Nick Gordon’s risen steadily through the Twins system. At each level, the 22-year-old has hit well, remained durable, and steadily added power. Now in Triple-A, he may be just weeks away from reaching the big leagues.

With the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline fast approaching, infielders Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar could be on the move, opening up a spot for Gordon to get consistent at-bats in Minnesota.

A place on the major league roster has always seemed inevitable for Gordon, given his talent, draft position, and major league family (father Tom and brother Dee have both made multiple all-star games). Nick Gordon, of course, still had to put up the numbers and earn each promotion, which he’s done with remarkable consistency.

His .292/.326/.365 career slash line is solid for a shortstop and ensured his continued rise. What’s more impressive, though, is that he’s posted those numbers as one of the youngest position players at each level. At 22, Gordon’s the youngest player on Rochester’s roster, but may be the closest to the big leagues, at least among position players. He admits to thinking about getting called up to the show, particularly now that he’s just one level away.

“You definitely think about it because you know it’s right there,” he said last week in Pawtucket. “But you have to play every single day where you’re at and make the best of it.”

After a strong 2017 in which he hit .270/.341/.408 for Double-A Chattanooga and hit leadoff in the Futures Game, Gordon was somewhat surprisingly returned to the Lookouts to begin 2018. In 42 games there this season, he hit .333/.381/.525, with five home runs and 18 extra base hits, finally earning a promotion to Rochester in late May.

After getting off to a hot start, he’s struggled a bit recently. He entered the Triple-A all-star break hitting .236/.255/.354 in 45 games with Rochester. Facing more seasoned pitchers, rather than the young, flame-throwing prospects in Double-A, has been a learning process.

“They’re smarter,” he said of Triple-A pitchers. “A lot of guys don’t necessarily have to give in to hitters here. It’s definitely been an adjustment. Still making adjustments.”

G.M. Thad Levine said in May that Gordon’s bat is “borderline Major League-ready” right now. As Gordon has added muscle with age, his power’s increased. In 2016, he hit just three home runs in 493 plate appearances for High-A Fort Myers. The following year, he hit nine for Double-A Chattanooga, while also setting career highs in doubles and triples. So far this season, he has seven home runs, and 32 total extra base hits between Double-A and Triple-A.

“Age. Maturing more,” Gordon said about the increase in power. “[I] see things better. Start recognizing what you can do better. Start hitting the ball in more gaps.”

The bat has always projected well, and is the No. 1 reason he’s consistently been a top-100 prospect. Still years from entering his prime, there’s optimism within the organization he can hit for both power and average in the big leagues. Those skills are valuable anywhere, but particularly at shortstop, where productive offensive players are often harder to come by.

It’s still an open question, however, whether he can stick at shortstop defensively. Some evaluators question whether he has the range to be an MLB-caliber defensive shortstop, and Levine said the Twins are challenging Gordon to continue to develop his defensive skills. If he doesn’t stick at shortstop, Gordon’s final defensive position would likely be second base — potentially as the long-term replacement for Dozier. Further complicating the issue is Jorge Polanco’s current stranglehold on short, and the eventual arrival of top prospect Royce Lewis.

Gordon’s played both positions throughout his minor league career, though shortstop’s always been where he’s accrued the most time. Since his arrival in Triple-A, however, he’s seen his time at second increase. After starting just six of 42 games at second in Double-A this year, he’s started 12 of 45 games at second in Triple-A. Gordon didn’t say whether he preferred one position over the other, insisting he’s happy playing both.

“I love playing up the middle,” he said. “Wherever I get the chance to put the uniform on and play, I’ll do it. Whichever one on the field I can play, that’s where I want to be.”

Gordon’s older brother, Dee, came up as a shortstop in the Dodgers organization, playing his first three seasons in the big leagues there before moving to second base. He thrived as a second baseman, making the all-star team in 2014 and 2015 and winning a batting title.

The younger Gordon doesn’t have the blazing speed of his brother, who led the National League in stolen bases three times. Nick has 76 career minor league stolen bases, but has only been successful in 66% of his attempts. So far this season, he has eight steals in 12 attempts. Becoming more of a weapon on the base paths is a continued area of emphasis.

“Yeah, I definitely would like to swipe a few more bags,” he said. “That comes from learning the game, learning pitchers, picking up on more things. I definitely feel like I’ve gotten better. I need to run more, but that will happen.”

Gordon’s playing alongside a group of talented prospects at Rochester that includes LaMonte Wade, Stephen Gonsalves, Fernando Romero and Zack Littell. After the trade deadline, they all could see significant time in the big leagues, with Gordon a central figure in what the Twins hope will be the next core group of players to lead the organization back to the postseason.


Previous Story Report: Dodgers looking beyond Manny Machado, have had conversations about Brian Dozier Next Story Twins would need thumbs up from Joe Mauer and family to move on a trade