When it was the Cardinals’ turn to pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, Nolan Gorman wasn’t supposed to be available. Keith Law ranked him as the 12th best prospect going into the draft. Jonathan Mayo also ranked him 12th. Fangraphs ranked him 11th. All three mentioned his raw power, with Law giving him grade 80 raw power. He won two Home Run Derbys, the High School one and the Under Armour one. When mock draft came, all three had the Cardinals drafting a college pitcher.
All three also had Gorman getting picked earlier than 19 too though, so for all we know, a college pitcher was the plan. We’ll never find out. For his strikeout issues and the questions surrounding his ability to stay at 3B, not to mention that he was a high schooler, he fell to the Cardinals at 19.
The first two are very much still questions long-term, but they seem considerably less important in the wake of what he did to lower minor league pitching. Gorman was somewhat aggressively sent to Johnson City to begin his minor league career. He was a 1st round pick so that made sense, but Johnson City is pretty much the highest level anyone is sent immediately after getting drafted.
He crushed everything in sight. Among hitters with at least 100 plate appearances, Gorman ranked 4th in isolated power with a .315 ISO. Just for some context, the MLB leader in ISO last season was Mike Trout at .316. So he had a lot of power. The three men ahead of him were 20, 22, and 22. One of the 22-year-olds was Cardinals 10th round pick Kevin Woodall, so that’s fun. Gorman was 18. In fact, he still is. He doesn’t turn 19 until May.
Gorman hit 11 home runs, 10 doubles and a triple in 38 games played for Johnson City. He batted .350 with a .443 OBP. His slugging percentage was .664. Even his strikeouts were reasonable, especially when they come with all of that, with a 22.2 K% compared to a 14.4 BB%.
He got promoted to Peoria, which is very rare for someone as young as he was. And at first, it looked like Gorman might hit well enough to start the 2019 season above Peoria. In his first 16 games, he hit 6 homers and batted .250/.306/.547. That is a low OBP, but it’s also a .853 OPS with a .294 BABIP. There were warning signs that maybe he shouldn’t get promoted, like his 36.1 K%.
His last eight games drove down his numbers unfortunately. He batted .103 with just one double in 35 plate appearances. He had a .176 BABIP and a .034 ISO. I can’t speak to the quality of his contact, but I went to a game during this run and he went 0-4 with no strikeouts and he hit the ball pretty hard for all four outs. Maybe that was an anomaly and all his other games were weak outs. It realistically doesn’t matter. It’s just eight games.
Overall, it didn’t put a damper in his professional debut. Despite striking out 36% of the time and despite a .255 BABIP, Gorman still was barely below average as a hitter in Peoria as an 18-year-old. His power is that good. That he could have so much trouble making contact and still basically be an average hitter with a well below average BABIP. That’s the kind of promise he shows.
I’m answering one of the questions below with this comment, but it’s no mystery. Gorman will start the 2019 season at Peoria. Where he ends up, however, is a mystery. He could stay at Peoria all season, get promoted to Palm Beach and stay there, or maybe he ends up at Springfield to avoid the dreaded pitcher’s dream at Palm Beach. Either way, I’ll be following along closely.