SURPRISE, Ariz.—Nick Gordon is one of the younger players in this year's Arizona Fall League, having turned 21 a week ago. But don't assume that the Twins shortstop has less baseball experience than his counterparts.
Gordon has been around a big league clubhouse pretty much all his life, first with father Tom “Flash" Gordon, a pitcher for 21 seasons in the major leagues, and more recently with half-brother Dee Gordon, the Marlins second baseman who was the National League batting champ in 2015.
The younger Gordon, Minnesota's first-round pick (fifth overall) in 2014, believes his early and frequent exposure to the game has been invaluable to his career.
“Being around the clubhouse and seeing my dad and brother do it," Gordon said, “it shows you the things you need to be ready for. Even at a young age, I was always there to see that, when it's time to play, it's time to play . . . Just to be able to see things that a normal kid wouldn't get to see and to be part of the clubhouse. I was there when my dad won the World Series (in 2008 with the Phillies). It's definitely a blessing to be able to grow up around things like that, and it shows you the little edges that you need to know about the game."
Brother Dee also gave Nick some tough love when they were younger, not always letting him play on his team. Nick found out later that Dee had a reason for forcing him on to the opposing squad.
“At first, I didn't understand when my brother wouldn't let me be on his team," Gordon said. “He'd always want me to play against him because he was the best athlete. He wanted me to play against the best, and it made me better."
Tom Gordon also played a part in Nick’s development, although Flash was a pitcher in his lengthy pro career. Flash played with a lot of good shortstops during his career and has been able to pass on tips he learned from those players. Gordon added that his dad is also able to help him out with his hitting.
“My dad was a great pitcher, so he knows what hitters are looking for in counts and knows what pitchers are trying to do to them," Gordon said. “We'll sit down and break down different at-bats and different counts, just to help you outthink the guy who was on the mound."
Like most young shortstops, Gordon faces the usual questions as to whether he'll be able to stay at the position, especially as he matures physically and adds weight to his lean, wiry frame. Despite owning a plus arm, Gordon has received mixed reviews from scouts as to whether he'll have the range for the position. One talent evaluator covering the Fall League for a National League club remarked this week that Gordon is young and needs more development both physically and mechanically, but that he should be able to stay at shortstop.
The Surprise coaching staff has been doing a lot of early work with Gordon to get him to attack ground balls and keep his feet moving, as well as improving the ability to go to his left for grounders. Surprise manager Carlos Febles, a manager in the Red Sox organization, spent six years as a middle infielder with the Royals. His work with Gordon has helped considerably.
“He has the ability to stay there," Febles said about Gordon. “He needs to clean up a couple things and make sure he's ready on every pitch . . . The main thing is to be in position to make plays every time. He has the athleticism to play short, but just (needs to) find a way to be more consistent fielding the baseball."
Consistency, that’s Gordon's keyword for the improvements he wants to make in every facet of his game.
“Stay consistent with everything I do," Gordon said when asked about his goals for his time in the AFL, “both offensively and defensively, stealing bases, everything I do, even my routine before a game. Consistency is a big thing for me."
While he has yet to develop a lot of over-the-fence power, with just five home runs in his 2 1/2 years as a pro, Gordon has shown the ability to make hard contact in his Fall League at-bats. Gordon believes that with growth and maturity he'll be able to drive more balls over the fence. But for now he's fine with lacing line drives to the gaps. Surprise hitting coach Kevin Riggs, from the Pirates organization, likes what he sees in Gordon and believes that the power will eventually come.”
The upside is huge in all areas," Riggs said. “Right now it's some gap power . . . he's going to get stronger and grow into that man strength. Those balls are going to start leaving the yard and impact the game in a lot of different ways. He's a special talent."
Gordon has struggled with lefthanded pitching during his career, not unusual for a young lefthanded hitter. Part of improving against southpaws is just getting more at-bats, but Gordon also has a plan when he goes to the plate and then executes to that plan.
“Stay with what I do best," Gordon said, “that's how you're going to beat a lefthander. You can't go in thinking a lefty is the same as a righty, because they're not."
What has impressed Riggs the most in the three-plus weeks that he's been working with Gordon is the kid's smarts and desire to learn.
“I've been doing this going on 15 years," Riggs said. “I've never had one player ask me (before) what I'm focusing on when I'm watching the hitters in BP, and it came out of his (Gordon's) mouth . . . It was pretty cool to have him ask me that specific question."
Off the field, Gordon says he's a very family-oriented person. When the season's over, he'll be ready to head home to Florida to spend the rest of the offseason with his family and friends. In what could be a scene out of the movie “Field of Dreams,” Gordon remarked that his favorite activity at home is to get with his dad to have a game of catch.
“I like to go out and play catch with my dad even if we're throwing the football," Gordon said. “I like to do it because I like to spend time with my dad. He was gone for a lot of years playing baseball. We'd see him when we could . . . I like to spend a lot of time with him, and with my mom, my little sister and my brothers."
The annual Fall Stars game will be held on Saturday at 8:08 ET at Surprise Stadium. The game will be televised live on MLB Network and streamed over MLB.com. Rosters for the game will be announced this week.
Yoan Moncada, baseball's top prospect, was shut down by the Red Sox after a sprained left thumb put the big-money Cuban on the sidelines. He's not expected to need surgery and should be ready for spring training. The switch-hitting Moncada got into seven games for Surprise, putting up a .292/.370/.458 batting line with one home run.