Nolan Gorman has lots of fans.
Friday night at Dozer Park in Peoria, 1,000 of them will go home with a bobblehead made in the young star’s likeness.
But they’re not the only ones impressed by the 19-year-old's strides thus far.
Baseball America recently moved Gorman up an impressive 22 spots on its prospect list, in large part due to the 19 year old’s hot start at Peoria.
In 37 games so far, Gorman carries a .246/.357/.538 slash line punctuated by 9 home runs and 27 RBI. But more impressive than the home runs — if that’s even possible! — is the improved plate discipline and overall hitting approach, which became an evident target for improvement last year.
A strikeout rate of 36% catches the wrong kind of attention, and after just 25 games in A-ball last year, some worried that his home runs wouldn’t be enough to compensate for the more common outcome of his at bats.
But don’t tell Nolan Gorman what he can’t do.
In round two with the Chiefs, he’s already dropped the strikeout rate 10 percentage points, and upped the walk rate from 9.3% last year to 11.7% this year.
Perhaps it’s as simple as saying “practice makes perfect,” but that doesn’t mean the practice isn’t specific, or that the learning comes all at once. Some of the process for Gorman started on the field in Peoria last year. More of it happened on the backfields in Jupiter this spring.
“I think that’s really where I learned just the part of not trying so hard,” Gorman said on Thursday night, recalling a lesson he took from a conversation with Kolten Wong. “When I’d go up to the big league games, I’d want to get a hit, I’d want to do something cool, and at the end of the day, nothing came out of it.”
Well, not nothing. There was that one home run. But the momentary exhilaration of that moment was soon washed away by the reality of that being his only hit in a big league game all spring.
So, it was back to work on the backfields where everything started to come together.
“I just was more relaxed back there and that’s kind of where it clicked for me,” Gorman explained. “I don’t have to try so hard to get hits.”
But have you ever tried to not try so hard?
It’s not as easy as it sounds. Controlling a swing is easier than controlling a mind. That, though, is precisely what Gorman is learning to do. And that, he says, is why the numbers look better so far this year.
“That kind of comes with being relaxed in the box and not chasing hits, if you will,” he said. “That’s kind of what I would do last year - chase hits, try to do something special. But I realized I don’t have to. If I barrel the ball, something good will come out of it.”
There’s more, though, to Gorman’s progress than the comfort level at the plate. He spent a considerable amount of time focused on defense with José Oquendo this spring, too.
As everyone seems to, Gorman spoke glowingly about his time spent with the Secret Weapon, citing his creativity in challenging players to make defensive plays they probably hadn’t thought of before.
“[He had us practice] different plays that might randomly pop up, rather than just a ball to your left or a ball to your right or right at you. He’s mixing all of it in there, and I think having that experience and his knowledge behind me gave me tremendous strides defensively for sure,” Gorman said.
That progress is a little harder to track early in a season. But with confidence growing at the plate and in the field, Gorman is poised to add even more fans to the growing total.
Maybe even some within his own clubhouse.
“We like giving him a hard time about all the hype,” Chiefs first baseman Brady Whalen said. “Tonight’s his bobblehead night, so I’ve been giving him a lot of crap about that…”
Keeping it loose, as Whalen called it, is just part of the “brotherhood” these teammates have formed. Whether it’s helping each other pick up something on an opposing pitcher, or cutting the tension of the hype and the spotlight, they have each other’s backs.
“It’s been fun to be around a guy like that who’s also so humble,” Whalen added. “He’s Nolan Gorman and there’s they hype, and this and that, but he’s another dude… That guy’s going to have a long career in the big leagues, I think.”
If you don’t believe him, just ask the bobblehead.
But, Nolan Gorman has lots of fans — including more than 25 family members from all corners of the country visiting Peoria for Nolan Gorman Bobblehead Night. So don’t think he's going to help hand out those one-of-a-kind keepsakes to just anyone —
“They all say that they want one,” he said of his teammates, and then added with a grin, “but they’ve gotta be a fan to get one.”