WELCOME TO THE DIRTY FLIRTY.
These are my top 40 prospects in The Cardinals organization, aside from the players that I’ve already covered in The Dirty Annexes. This little ditty here is the preface to all of the post in our Dirty series. So, if you’ve read this once then you don’t need to read it again!
A warning to those looking for Lars Nootbaar, Scott Hurst, Junior Fernandez, Johan Oviedo, Jake Woodford, Edmundo Sosa, and anyone aside from Angel Rondon that has already made a major league debut: That’s not really my bailiwick, as I’m sure you’ve heard enough about those guys from more qualified outlets already. Most of those guys have exhausted their prospect status, anyway.
A reminder that this is an exercise in futility, ranking prospects. It’s a landscape that is ever-changing and developing. We are almost always talking about kids that are just starting to understand both themselves and their bodies, while learning the most difficult and nuanced sport in the land. You never know when someone is going to start doing 200 pushups per day on their way to postseason glory.
I ask for your thoughts and feedback. I ask that you have fun. I ask that you remember that I’m a moron. Most importantly, I ask that you take all of the prospect rankings from every outlet in the spirit of what they are: a snapshot of that moment, with a bent towards understanding what might come.
#1(A): 2B/3B Nolan Gorman
21 Years Old
Drafted in the 1st round of the 2018 draft
Memphis and Springfield
At about the midpoint of the 2021 season, I was content to have Gorman as the #3 prospect on The Dirty. It really felt like Jordan Walker and Masyn Winn had jumped him. It felt like the Cardinals were rushing Gorman for absolutely no reason at all after tasking him with some pretty big changes.
Remember, Gorman began to learn how to play a new position - second base - right at the start of Spring Training. In addition, most prospects with the swing-and-miss tendency that Gorman displays usually need a little more time to settle into both themselves and a more professional approach. With all of this in mind, and coming off of lost 2020 season - even though he was a part of the Cardinals "Summer Camp" - it seemed to me that patience was going to be a virtue with his development.
Somehow, through all of these obstacles and learning curves, Gorman managed to exceed every expectation that I had for him.
The first two-ish weeks of the AA season were not kind to Gorman. He was hitting 143/351/250 in 37 small sample size plate appearances, while striking out 14 times. Gorman looked both overpowered and overmatched, and I was worried about his workload as he transitioned to second base and altered his approach to cut down on swings and misses. That's a lot to change about yourself as a 20/21-year-old kid. It was at about the end of the first two weeks that we really saw Gorman stay back on the baseball and begin to poke it all around the diamond. This was HUGE for him.
For about the next four weeks - from May 14th through June 12th spanning 110 plate appearances, Gorman was the toughest out in AA, if not all of the minor leagues. He was hammering the ball all over the place, and his easy power was on display to all fields. Gorman hit 379/418/680 with nine homers and four doubles, while cutting his strikeout rate way down over this time period. He was more aggressive at the plate, but he was also making way more contact than he ever had in the past, even if that contact was just fouls of all types. It was a comical thing to watch, Gorman abusing every pitcher that he saw. He even became the first Springfield Cardinals' player to ever hit three homers in a single regular season game (Chris Swauger had done it in a playoff game).
But then Gorman lost his feel at the plate, and it was even worse than it was when he struggled at the start of the season. In his next ten games, Gorman hit 174/208/283 with 20 strikeouts in 48 plate appearances. It was really bad, too. He was frozen on pitches on the outside corner. He was chasing after fastballs up in the zone that he didn't stand a chance making contact with. He was doing that thing that he did a lot in 2019 where he'd get beat by "inside" breaking pitches that landed a foot in front of the plate.
Was that month stretch of mashing just a hot stretch? Had he been playing out unsustainably out of his mind? Would he be able to rediscover the success that he had in some form?
Well, Gorman was promoted to AAA before we could answer those questions at AA. I hated it. It did not make any sense to me, at all. Again, there was no reason to rush him. When appraising him in the field at the time of his promotion, he was nothing short of wooden at 2nd. He was better than he was at the beginning of his transformation, obviously, but it definitely wasn't pretty even if he did make a great play or two.
It was also somewhat troublesome to see him take some steps backwards defensively at 3rd. He seemed like a prospect caught between two position and two approaches, while being caught between two MiLB levels.
As you'd suspect, it took Gorman a little time to get going in Memphis. It certainly wasn't pretty at first. Over his first ten AAA games, Gorman hit 103/146/103 with 13 strikeouts in 41 plate appearances. He looked worse than he did at Springfield, and I can't imagine how frustrating it was for Gorman. I don't have a horse in the race and I was frustrated by it.
But then, something happened. Gorman started to do the things that he did when he started to hit at Springfield. All of the sudden, Gorman had shortened his swing. He was calmer in the box. He'd just let his natural power do the work while trying to make solid contact to all fields. He looked relaxed, and he rakes when he's relaxed.
Another fascinating aspect of watching Gorman rediscover his AA-level success was that it seemed to coincide with getting every day starts at second base. almost immediately, some of those wooden motions at the keystone became smooth. He was getting better and better at turning the double play, and better and better at getting himself in appropriate position for cutoffs and bunts. His footwork was getting better and better, too. Sometimes, somehow, it was even kinda natural and pretty.
It was in the last two months of the minor league season that Nolan Gorman became a true second baseman. What a wild time to be alive. He's not going to dive around like a jackass and make plays like Tommy Edman or Kolten Wong, but he can more than handle the assignment now. He is actually kind of fun to watch play second base now.
Can you imagine how tough it has to be to learn a completely new position on the fly, without a real offseason to practice? And at the two toughest levels in the minors? I find it fascinating that Gorman began to really understand himself as a hitter and fielder when he became an everyday second baseman. I just think to myself "if I was asked to learn a new position, and I was having to put as much time into it as Gorman, then something is going to suffer along the way." Well, that line of thinking was absolutely incorrect, and it should show you how fragile and feebleminded I am. A regular assignment at 2nd base seemed to bring out the best in every aspect of this young man's game.
The keys to Gorman's continued success at the plate is three-fold. First, he needs to continue to work the entire field. He is at his worst when he is one dimensional. This doesn't mean that he is going to lace the ball down the opposite field line and hustle in for a double. He is capable of this and he has done this in the past, but it's not the focal point of how he'll have success. This means that left field needs to be a spot that he tries to but the ball in as frequently as possible when he is in a position to be defensive-swinging in the box. Gorman still struggles against left-handers, and it would do him well to follow Brendan Donovan's example with how Donovan squares up and slaps balls from lefties. He needs to continue to get better against left-handed pitchers any way that he can.
The second thing that Gorman needs to do is trust his power. You see, you don't need to try and hit for power when you possess as much natural power in your swing as Gorman does. His strength, bat speed, lower-half leverage, and front foot timing can all be elite. His timing can go awry here and there when he is really guessing, but it got more consistent throughout the season. This is something that we have seen with Tyler O'Neill. As a matter of fact, there are a lot of similarities between the two at the same age. After the 2021 season, we now know for sure that Prince Sex O'Neill is at his best when he is trusting himself and his process. The same can and will be said for Nolan Gorman when he's eventually a regular in the Cardinals everyday lineup.
The third thing, Gorman needs to continue to be aggressive at the plate while staying strong in his approach. I've gone back and watched about 100 of his at-bats during the 2021 season. 50 at Memphis and 50 at Springfield. 25 at each level when he was raking and 25 at each level when he is struggling. The thing that is obvious is that Gorman beats himself more than pitchers beat him. If Gorman can continue to recognize and attack the pitches that he can "do work" to while turning his nose at the trash or leaping at everything that he sees, then he'll be a perennial all-star.
Now, all of the gushing over Gorman and his new found acumen at second doesn't mean that he doesn't have some things to work on. Obviously, consistency becomes his next big chore. The other area that he needs to work on is the finesse of how he throws the ball. Gorman possesses an absolute cannon. I mean, it's easily the strongest that I've seen out of a Cardinals farmhand coming from the 2nd base position. There are times, specifically when going to his left or coming in on the ball, that Gorman will just absolutely rocket-throws a ball to the first baseman from like 30 feet away. It's as funny to watch as it is scary, to be honest. It's even funnier when you watch it in contrast to how delicate and light Gorman is at flipping a ball to the shortstop to turn a double play. With reps, this will go ahead as he learns to "feel" how much time he has to plant and make a throw.
The other area that Gorman has some work to do at the keystone is in his communication around the bag. Sometimes he gets caught trying to take a double play for himself, but then kind of pauses and delays instead of trusting his instincts. As the last couple of words say right there, it's all about instincts and trust himself. I'd wager every dollar that a full offseason of work at second will provide Gorman with the necessary reps to wash this concern away by the time that we get to spring training.
As I've mentioned over and over again for a many years now (and even in this thingy already), there are a lot of similarities between Gorman and a then 21-year-old Tyler O'Neill. Other than what I mentioned earlier, another similarity is that the fastball up and in is a bit of a hole for both. Specifically when he isn't all of the way "on," Gorman gets tied up pretty easily with that pitch. Like with O'Neill, Gorman will swing at a ball off of the plate and in the dirt when he is trapped in his own head or trying to do too much damage. But also like O'Neill, there isn't going to be any sneaking a breaking pitch by Gorman. As a matter of fact, If I were a pitcher pitching to Gorman, I'm not even sure if I'd offer a breaking pitch to him that wasn't way inside or wasted. He won't be fooled by any breaking pitch that is destined for the middle of the plate. Especially when he is on one of his left field-using heaters.
Gorman's success at AAA wasn't an illusion. It's not smoke and mirrors. It's the budding and coming-together of a supremely gifted baseball player that works his ass of to reach his entire potential. Gorman wasn't at his best or most dominant at the plate over the last month of Memphis's season, but he was still a lot of fun to watch. It's been fun to watch him make more contact while still being able to hit for power. He's still coming into his approach and confidence in himself, and that was on display during that final month. Even then, it was a successful month to cap off an otherwise outstanding minor league season.
Gorman has every chance to do real damage in the Major Leagues if he continues to refine and focus on becoming more comfortable with his ability to make contact, use the entire field, and trust his power. It's his ability to play in the field and cut down on the strikeouts that makes him the "(A)" in the "1(A)/1(B)" part of our top prospects in the organization. Keep in mind that he is still just 21 years old and these things don't happen right away in baseball's toughest leagues. It usually takes this type of player a little extra time to settle in before he's mashing at the Major League level like a proper masher. Gorman is already ahead of schedule.
As I just take a screenshot straight from their website, I can’t begin to stress loudly enough the important role that FanGraphs plays in the statistical side of what I do with these write-ups. Please subscribe to their service BY CLICKING THIS LINK.
In addition, you all know how important and valuable @cardinalsgifs is to the pictures that fire up these articles. He’s helped with some of the gifs along the lines, too. I wouldn’t do the write-ups if it weren’t for him.
Shout out to my nemesis, the Springfield Cardinals for all of the great video that they provided this season.
Thank For Reading!!