Five months ago Nolan Gorman was in high school. While his classmates may have been making decisions about which college to attend, Gorman had another variable to consider: professional baseball.
When June 4 came around, Gorman was selected by the St. Louis Cardinals in June’s First-Year Player Draft. He signed six days later, foregoing his commitment to the University of Arizona.
In the blink of an eye, Gorman was hitting home runs for the Johnson City Cardinals at a pace that earned a promotion to Class A Peoria during the second week of August.
“It’s been super quick, this summer kind of flew by,” Gorman said. “I have friends that are back in high school now, they’ve been there for a [few weeks] already, so it’s gone quick, but it’s been really fun.”
Numerous moments in Gorman’s career represent large and small stepping stones, each pivotal in bringing him to the present day.
In August of 2017, Gorman played in the Perfect Game All-American Classic in Petco Park. He took a 96-mph fastball from two-way prospect Mason Denaburg to deep right-center field in San Diego. The homer opened eyes to what many considered the best raw-power bat in the 2018 draft.
“I remember [that home run] a lot because [Denaburg] is one of my good friends,” Gorman said. “We played together over the summer... one of our buddies said I was going to hit a bomb off of him in the game, and it ended up actually happening.”
One month later, Gorman was playing for the 18U National Team with numerous other 2018 draftees.
“Team USA was great, we got to go win a gold medal in Canada, and we did it going 9-0,” Gorman said. “We had an unbelievable team, that was honestly my favorite baseball moment, but draft day is kind of just a moment in my life that got me to where I want to be.”
The 2017 18U National Team allowed only five runs, winning right-straight to get to the gold-medal game on September 10. With Gorman at third base, the team shutout Korea 8-0 to kickstart the celebration.
When draft day came in June, Gorman had a new memory to rank near the top. He signed and took batting practice at Busch Stadium for the first time with family looking on.
“There really wasn’t any crazy conversations or anything,” Gorman said. “I just had small talk with a couple players, Bader who’s doing really well now, Yadier Molina, Martinez, all of those guys.”
Unless Gorman takes an accelerated track to the major leagues, he might miss the opportunity to play with talents like Molina and Wainwright. But the advice he received from them and others will remain in his head.
“Grind, everyone had to go through it,” Gorman said. “So just keep your head down and keep going.”
Gorman pushed his way to the Midwest League in a record amount of time, heading the advice he received. The lefty is the first high school position player in the last 44 years to reach full-season ball during his draft year with the Cardinals according to Brian Walton of The Cardinal Nation.
When Gorman hit a pair of homers on August 20, it caught the attention of Peoria Chiefs Hitting Coach Russ Chambliss.
“I’ve seen that, but not within that small amount of time,” Chambliss said. “[Gorman] accomplished that within like three weeks. That’s something we don’t really see all the time. That was really impressive and very encouraging.”
Struggle is inevitable with aggressive promotions and after his impressive run through the Appalachian League, Gorman ran. In the final 12 games of the 2018 Midwest League season, he hit just .111 with 17 strikeouts to five walks.
“Pitching wise, the pitchers here are a little better [in Class A], they’ve got more command,” Gorman said. “Velo-wise they’re all pretty much the same, there’s guys everywhere in organizations throwing 97mph, you can see that anywhere you are, but [here] they have a little bit more command on all their pitches and better stuff.”
Gorman has dealt with elite velocity on the showcase circuit, but started to run into more left-handed pitching, a natural difficulty for most left-handed hitters. Just 20 percent of his plate appearances have come against southpaws, a big difference from the 40-50 percent he’ll probably see at the major league level. While his OPS against lefties is .750, 15 of his 17 home runs this season have come against right-handers and his OPS is 250 points higher.
“I think just seeing more pitching from the left side, reps are going to help me get better against left-handed pitching,” Gorman said. “And I think I have seen a little more lefties [in Class A], but I don’t think it’s anything to do with me specifically being in the lineup, I think teams just have more left-handed pitching as you go up.”
Chambliss admits he’s still learning about the Cardinals first-round pick. With most players, he said Peoria lets the player show what they can and cannot do. After the sample grows and signs start to emerge, they begin to formulate drills for improvement in specific areas. Gorman is no exception to this approach. Chambliss has started to see where Gorman may need to adjust.
“To stay closed, for the most part, not to pull out,” said Russ Chambliss, the Peoria Chiefs hitting coach. “I was a lefty as well and when I was facing a lefty pitcher it was very easy to pull out too soon. And that’s still a work in progress with him, especially on off-speed pitches he does have a tendency to pull out every now and then, but that’s with anybody, that’s something that he’s going to have to work on no matter what.”
Gorman has a few more games to tinker and close out his first professional season strong as Peoria faces the Houston Astros Class A affiliate in the first round of the Midwest League playoffs.
As for Gorman’s offseason plans?
“Trying to plan a fishing trip, maybe California,” Gorman said.
When next season starts, Gorman will still be 18 years old. While his high school classmates are finishing their freshman year of college, Gorman will have over 60 games of pro ball under his belt (and potentially another fishing trip). The 2019 season will be another step towards his ultimate goal: playing in the major leagues.
If you missed my post last week, here is the link to a video I recorded with Gorman, a consolidated look at his road to Peoria. The story above is an additional piece of content, incorporating thoughts not present in the video, from my conversation with Gorman and Chambliss.