Ever since JJ Hardy left the Twins during the 2011 offseason, the club has trotted out twelve different starters at shortstop. Minnesota seemed to have found a solution in Eduardo Escobar last season, but he has regressed to a 74 OPS+ in 2015 after a 2.5 WAR campaign the year prior.
Could Nick Gordon, selected by Minnesota with the 5th overall pick in the 2014 draft, be the answer to the Twinkies’ shortstop woes? We’ll give our best projection for Gordon’s future by taking a look at his swing, plate approach, defensive ability, and speed.
Gordon has a semi-simplistic stroke that should be effective at the major league level. He begins his swing in a relatively calm manner, slowly loads, and then releases the bat. In his pre-pitch calmness to eventual explosiveness, his swing is somewhat reminiscent of Robinson Cano’s, which can only be positive. Gordon’s stroke can be very linear like Cano's, however, he tends to hit down on the ball, which explains his high ground ball totals. Luckily for Nick, his solid loads keeps his hands at a constant level, so we have good reason to assume more coaching will coax out that linear swing with more consistency.
Another asset to Gordon’s swing is his superb balance and the strength of his back foot. Often, hitters (even at the major league level) fall into the habit of lifting their back foot off the ground before swinging, but Gordon does not allow his foot to rotate until he releases his hips, which ensures that he stays inside the baseball and put himself in excellent position to make contact. Thus, Gordon is able to generate as much power as possible from his swingy by fully utilizing his hip rotation and lower body along with his quick hands.
Currently, the 2014 draftee does not have the raw strength to capitalize on his swing. But at 6-0, 160 pounds, he might be able to fit another 20 or so pounds of muscle onto that frame, which could completely alter Gordon's power output.
At the plate, Gordon exhibits an advanced plate approach far beyond his years. This season, the 19-year-old has already doubled his walk rate from '14, and he has more hits towards left field than he does to right. Nick's biggest issue is breaking pitches. Like most young hitters, he has trouble identifying off-speed offerings and frequently lunges at these pitches. Recognition of these slower pitches is nothing of concern, however, as it should should definitely improve with more at-bats and training.
FV Hit Grade: 60
FV Power Grade: 40/45
Nick's defense at shortstop is where he really solidifies his status as a top prospect. He's not Andrelton Simmons, but he will stick at shortstop in the big leagues, a huge plus for any young player. Gordon, a former pitcher, can throw up to 94 miles per hour across the diamond and couples that arm strength with soft hands, good instincts, and quick feet.
Further, while Gordon does not have elite speed, he stays low and athletic when fielding and gets tremendous reads on the ball. Overall, he is a very smooth fielder, which shows through the numbers. Gordon's .960 fielding percentage is tops in the Midwest League among players with at least 35 games at short.
FV Field Grade: 55/60
FV Arm Grade: 70
Stealing bases has been, by far, Gordon's largest statistical success in his brief pro career. Through 117 professional games, the 19 year-old has swiped 26 bags in 38 tries and garnered a nice 7.4 Spd rating. Still, try not to make too much of Gordon's gaudy base-stealing totals, which are more indicative of the inexperience of his competition rather than his talent. Remember, catcher Gary Sanchez swiped 11 bags in 68 A-ball contests back in 2012. I do think Gordon has the potential to eclipse the 20-steal plateau during his career. But he is nowhere near as fast as his brother, Dee.
FV Speed Grade: 55/60
Given the current state of shortstop, I have no trouble projecting Nick Gordon as an All-Star at that position sometime in the future. He is extremely young, has a very quick bat, a good approach at the plate, and, most importantly, is a lock to stick at shortstop. Nick's glove will carry him to success, but his bat should be no hinderance to his value.
Gordon has an excellent chance to develop into a versatile top-of-the-lineup bat. If he increases his strength, Gordon could slug around 8-10 home runs at maturity and his above-average plate approach should enable him to maximize his speed potential. I would not be surprised if the Florida-native hits around .280-.290 in the major leagues with maybe 25 steals, solid defense, and a .350 on base percentage.
Even in the worst-case scenario, Gordon is still a valuable commodity. Regardless of how his bat develops, his defense gives him the floor of a solid utility guy who can provide the occasional offensive punch off the bench.
Despite his relatively poor numbers so far, Gordon’s struggles should be expected from a teenager thrust into action amidst grown men. I do not think the Twins prospect will ever become a true superstar. Nevertheless, given his high floor and high ceiling combination, Gordon remains an excellent value selection at the 5th spot in the draft and the no doubt shortstop of the future in Minnesota.