TCN 2022 St. Louis Cardinals Prospect #1 – Nolan Gorman

photo: Nolan Gorman (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

Completing The Cardinal Nation’s Top 50 countdown for 2022 is a second baseman on the cusp of the majors. When will Nolan Gorman arrive and in what role? What will be his ceiling? FREE report!



Nolan Gorman

Position: Second base/third base
Age: 21 years old
Bats/Throws: L/R
Height/Weight – 6’1/215
Acquired: Selected in the first round of the 2018 First-Year Player Draft, 19th overall
Primary team in 2021: Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A)
Finished 2021: Glendale Desert Dogs (Arizona Fall League)

Prior Top 50 rankings – 2021 #2, 2020 #2, 2019 #3

Click on the above photo to be taken to Gorman’s player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.

Link to Gorman’s career stats

Jake Tweedie’s scouting report

(current grade/future grade)

HIT POWER FIELD ARM RUN FV
30/50 30/55 45/45 60/60 40/35 55
AVG OBP SLG OPS HR SB CS K% BB%
.279 .333 .481 .814 25 7 1 21.9% 7.3%
ISO wRC+ GB/FB GB% LD% FB% Pull% Cent% Oppo%
.191(AAA) 106(AAA) 1.25(AAA) 45.0%(AAA) 19.0%(AAA) 36.0%(AAA) 42.4%(AAA) 22.6%(AAA) 35%(AAA)

The number 1 ranking in the Cardinals’ system is very much deserved for Nolan Gorman. He brings a lot to the table and has continually impressed in his assignments to date.

The natural power hitter has the capability to become a regular Majors player within the next two years. Gorman has sharpened his game defensively, as well as being able to hit home runs (25 in 2021), plus make regular contact (.279 in 2021).

Although he can get caught by certain pitches due to his pull-heavy approach, this improved in 2021, when he pulled 42.4% of pitches, compared to 47.2% in 2019. This will need to continue to develop to enable Gorman to consistently use all areas in the field, but that initial step of improving led to an increase in average and home runs, as well as a reduction in strikeouts.

Gorman has the combination of being physically strong and having quick bat speed, as well as being an impressive left-handed hitter. His average of .305 against right-handed pitching was strong, although he will need to improve against lefties, against whom he averaged just .202.

With the room for improvement on top of his obvious qualities, Gorman is an exciting prospect. A naturally gifted hitter, he definitely has the ability to be an everyday starter with St. Louis. For now, he might have to build on his impressive start to Triple-A and with some slight changes, may perform even better in 2022.

Future Value: 55
Role: Above average regular/occasional All-Star
Risk: Low

Video

Brian Walton’s environmental impact report

Background

The Cardinals were again in the position to swoop up a very good prospect despite holding just the 19th selection in the 2018 draft. Gorman was considered the best high school power-hitting prospect in his class, according to several national scouting concerns and became the first MLB draftee born in the new millennium.

After signing for an at-slot bonus of $3,231,700, Gorman started his professional career with Johnson City. Simply put, he dominated the rookie-advanced Appalachian League with a .350/.443/.664/1.107 slash line, while slugging 11 home runs and driving in 28 in just over a month of action.

As of his early August promotion to Low-A, not only did the 18-year-old become the youngest player in the Midwest League, Gorman was the first position player drafted by the Cardinals to reach full-season ball in his draft year in 44 years. The last to accomplish it was prep shortstop Garry Templeton in 1974.

Nolan Gorman (Allison Rhoades/Peoria Chiefs)

Gorman’s first professional season concluded on a down note as his Midwest League debut was bumpy, especially at the plate. In his initial 107 plate appearances with Peoria, Gorman batted just .202. His strikeouts spiked to an alarming 36.4% while his walks fell to under 10%. He also committed five errors in 25 regular season games.

It was not all concerning, however. Positives include six home runs and 16 RBI in his 25 contests with the Chiefs. An extenuating factor was some bad luck as evidenced by his .255 average on balls in play (BABIP).

Between his two stops in 2018, Gorman launched 17 home runs in his first 63 professional games.

There was no sophomore slump by Gorman in 2019, nor was there a huge breakout.

Gorman initially returned to Class-A to open the season, but finished in the then-High-A Florida State League, a tough place to hit. He slashed .248/.326/.439/.765 over 125 games between the two levels. Gorman slugged 15 home runs and drove in 62. While continuing to face significantly older pitching, his ISO (Isolated Power) for the season was .191, sixth among Cardinals farmhands.

Mid-summer, shortly after being named a Midwest League mid-season All-Star, Gorman joined fellow top prospect Dylan Carlson on the National League team for the MLB Futures Game held during All-Star Weekend.

Dylan Carlson and Nolan Gorman

Another indication of his raw power is that 45.1% of his hits in 2018 and 2019 went for extra bases. Not surprisingly, for two consecutive years, Baseball America awarded Gorman the title of “Best Power Hitter” in the organization (before he was unseated by Jordan Walker for 2022).

Speaking of extra base hits… In a good indicator for the future, across the entire Cardinals system in 2019, no one collected more doubles than Gorman’s 30 (tied with Brady Whalen). Further, Gorman’s rate of two-base hits increased at High-A over Low-A, though his long balls were cut in half.

Using Weighted Runs Created Plus (wRC+) as the measure, Gorman was 28 percent above the Midwest League average offensively (128 wRC+) and 17 percent above the FSL average (117 wRC+). However, his Palm Beach BABIP was quite high at .365.

Red flags flown at Palm Beach included Gorman’s strikeout rate growing to 31.7% while his walk rate was cut in half between the two A-ball levels – from 11.3% to 5.7%. In comparison, over his entire minor league career, Randal Grichuk never fanned at 31.7% or above. Tyler O’Neill reached that mark just once, at 32.2% at Class-A in 2014.

One scout at the time labeled Gorman as being “today’s kind of player – capable of 30 home runs, but also 200 strikeouts”.

Defensively, there was still work to do as he recorded back-to-back 21-error seasons at the hot corner to open his career.

In summary, his 2019 was a solid, though unspectacular performance.

Opening 2020, Gorman was a part of the Cardinals’ January instructional camp in Jupiter, Florida with a repeat invitation.

He then scored his first non-roster invite to St. Louis’ spring training camp. Of the 71 players present, only Gorman and top catching prospect Ivan Herrera were born in the new millennium (with the latter three weeks younger).

Gorman got on the field for 13 of the Cardinals’ 20 games, an unusually a high level of visibility for such a relatively inexperienced player. He performed well, going 8-for-26 (.308) including two doubles and a home run. Gorman walked twice, plated four and did not strike out excessively, with five. His .857 OPS performance was just plain solid.

Gorman was still up with St. Louis when the threat posed by COVID-19 shut down the Jupiter camp on March 12. When camp resumed in St. Louis at the start of July, Gorman was given another week with the major leaguers before being reassigned to the alternate camp.

Cardinals officials – from the majority owner on down – praised Gorman’s work in Springfield, which was held in a closed stadium. His biggest to-do coming out of the alternate camp was to cut his strikeouts down in 2021 by shortening his swing to better take advantage of his elite power.

To that point, over almost 800 career minor league plate appearances, the left-handed hitter had struck out at a 29% rate. It increased from 2018 (27.7%) to 2019 (29.7%) as he faced more experienced pitching.

2021 recap – professional

Gorman received another big-league spring camp invitation and remained until March 25. He had the same number of at-bats as Nolan Arenado, 46, and hit two home runs with eight RBI, while slashing .239/.327/.413/.740. Gorman drew five walks against 13 strikeouts.

He opened the season in Double-A Springfield and slashed .288/.354/.508/.862 in 195 plate appearances. Gorman launched 11 home runs and plated 27 in 43 games. Though he started the season at third base defensively, he moved to second after several weeks of offensive stability. His overall performance earned him a promotion to Triple-A as June ended.

Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore (St. Louis Cardinals)

Less than two weeks later, Gorman traveled to participate in his second consecutive All-Star Futures Game. This time, his Cardinals partner was his childhood friend and new Memphis teammate, pitcher Matthew Liberatore.

The infielder struggled in his first month at Memphis, tallying just a .696 OPS in July, though he plated 17 in 25 games. Gorman improved quickly with a .925 OPS and another 18 RBI in his red-hot August. He cooled in September with a .721 OPS. Overall, he hit 14 home runs and recorded 48 RBI, ending the year with a .785 OPS in 76 games with the Redbirds.

For the 2021 season, Gorman finished third in the Cardinals system in home runs (25), fourth in slugging (.481), first in hits (134) and tied for third in runs scored (71).

On the other hand, his production was down each year. Gorman’s wRC+ declined from 149 in 2018 to 123 in 2019 to 115 in 2021. Having said that, criticism would be unwarranted. After all, the 21-year-old was still 15% above league average in 2021 while reaching Triple-A. Each season, the infielder has been moved ahead aggressively, which had to suppress his results somewhat.

Gorman’s 2021 was not done with the end of the regular season, despite his system-leading plate appearance total of 523.

Nolan Gorman (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The fall began with the Cardinals assigning Gorman to the Arizona Fall League prospect showcase. As the organization’s designated priority player, the second baseman was assured to be in the Glendale Desert Dogs’ lineup at least four of six days. However, Gorman lasted just one week before suffering a hamstring injury that ended his AFL campaign.

The left-handed hitter got off to a fast start in his home Phoenix area. In 23 plate appearances, he slashed a very impressive .375/.565/.625/1.190. Though still injured and unable to participate in the Fall Stars Game, Gorman was still selected.

A veteran scout liked what he saw from Gorman’s 2021 adjustments. “I am very impressed by his shortened swing,” the evaluator said. “I see him initially fitting in as a combination second baseman-designated hitter playing against right-handed pitching.”

2022 outlook

Gorman has quickly progressed through the system and is competing to become the second player from his Cardinals draft class to reach the majors. The first was eighth-rounder Lars Nootbaar, with seventh-round selection Brendan Donovan also close (and with a 40-man roster spot in hand). Both were collegians, however, so they should move more quickly.

Lars Nootbaar and Nolan Gorman (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

This is Gorman’s fourth consecutive year being among our top three prospects in the system, though this is his first (and almost certainly last) recognition in the top spot. Initially, he was behind Carlson before the latter graduated to St. Louis.

Gorman will be next.

The main question on the table seems to be when he will make the St. Louis roster, followed by how he will be deployed. Due to the combination of his MLB readiness, his left-handed bat (a clear need for the Cardinals) and the return of the designated hitter to the National League, I would normally have given Gorman at least a 50% chance to come north from Jupiter with the Cardinals.

But 2022 is again not shaping up to be a normal year.

Due to factors beyond his control, Gorman seems likely to open spring training in minor league camp instead of with St. Louis. When the lockout is finally over, big league camp will be compressed, with less time than usual to get the major leaguers ready for “games that count” (and that generate revenue).

Even if the lockout ends relatively quickly, during March, how many minor leaguers will get a chance to play in camp and how often? Or if the lockout runs into April, Gorman and the other minor leaguers will have already moved on to Memphis (or Springfield and the other regular season locales).

Would they be pulled out of Triple-A (for example) and brought back to Florida for the delayed, compressed St. Louis camp, or will they potentially have to wait longer for a real shot to earn a big-league spot?

At this point, no one knows how much the lockout will negatively impact prospects, but as the above highlights, even those not on the 40-man and formally locked out may be disadvantaged.

Having said that and considering everything, I would be very surprised if the second half of the season arrives with Gorman still in Tennessee waiting for his call.

The playing time opportunity must be there, however, as I suspect that the Cardinals do not plan to position Gorman on St. Louis’ bench. His window would open wider if the incumbent starter at either the second base or shortstop position does not deliver offensively or suffers an injury in the early going. In the second base case, Tommy Edman would likely move into a utility role and in the case of a shortstop need, he could slide over there, with Gorman taking over at second.

If Nolan Arenado would require time on the injured list, the Cardinals would have an interesting choice. They could return Gorman to third, but since his shift to second base is said to be permanent, the MLB-proven third baseman Edman seems the more probable interim solution at the hot corner.

Nolan Gorman (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)

The designated hitter position offers another opportunity for Gorman, perhaps the most obvious one. Yet there are others also trying to gain their big-league footing who are clearly in the mix. The Cardinals could give another rookie, Juan Yepez, the first shot and the right-handed hitter hasn’t shown a strong splits bias that could stamp him as a platoon player only. Or the team could open with presumed fourth outfielder Nootbaar serving as the lefty-hitting DH facing right-handed pitching alongside Yepez. But if either falters in an extended trial, Gorman could be the primary recipient of the vacated at-bats.

Somehow, some way, I expect Gorman to receive at least 300 plate appearances with St. Louis in his upcoming rookie season – and it could easily be more.

Ideally, Gorman finds a way to storm out of camp with guns blazing and quickly establishes himself as a major league regular. Best case, he becomes the National League’s second consecutive Rookie of the Year from the second base position, following 2021 winner Jonathan India of Cincinnati. Another similarity is that India also came up through the Reds system as a third baseman.

Future outlook

Even if all infield incumbents stay healthy and play well and Gorman spends considerable time in his rookie year as the designated hitter, I still don’t think he will be St. Louis’ DH long-term. Nothing against Edman, whose greatest value may be in his diversity, but Gorman seems to be the Cardinals’ future at second base. While Gold Glove Award winner Edman is a superior defender, Gorman should be league average in the field and much better offensively.

He would help would fill a clear need for the Cardinals, which is more impact bats from the left side. Gorman’s power should eventually help him earn his way into a run-producing spot in manager Oliver Marmol’s lineup behind stalwarts Paul Goldschmidt and Arenado.

We believe Gorman’s likely level overall will be that of an above-average regular in the major leagues – and that would be pretty darned good, especially coming from the second base position.

For those who expect more, it is certainly not out of the question. However, I will share an exercise I followed to gauge Gorman’s Double-A and Triple-A power through comparisons to other high-potential Cardinals prospects in the categories of isolated power (ISO) and slugging percentage (SLG). The sample group includes slugger Matt Adams as well as then-Cardinals top prospect Oscar Taveras, along with a more recent comp in Carlson.

Year Springfield hitter Age PAs ISO SLG Awards
2011 Matt Adams 22 513 0.266 0.566 TL MVP
2012 Oscar Taveras 20 531 0.252 0.572
2019 Dylan Carlson 20 483 0.237 0.518 TL MVP
2021 Nolan Gorman 20 195 0.220 0.508

When Adams was the Texas League MVP in 2011, he was an older 23, but the other three in our analysis were all in their respective age 20 seasons. Of the four, Gorman generated the lowest isolated power and lowest slugging percentage, though all were good.

However, one could counter with the legitimate question of whether Gorman’s numbers would have gone up had he been allowed to face Double-A pitching for the entire 2021 season. Perhaps if so, he could have also been a contender to join Adams and Carlson as league MVPs.

Year Memphis hitter Age PAs ISO SLG
2012 Matt Adams 23 276 0.295 0.624
2013 Oscar Taveras 21 186 0.156 0.462
2014 Oscar Taveras 22 262 0.184 0.502
2019 Dylan Carlson 20 79 0.319 0.681
2021 Nolan Gorman 20 328 0.191 0.465

Of our comparison group, only Carlson and Gorman performed at Springfield and Memphis in the same season. Taveras repeated Triple-A with both years of data in the above table.

At this level, Carlson’s limited but fantastic September finish to the 2019 season stands out, with Adams continuing his slugging ways at Triple-A. Gorman, who already has more career Triple-A plate appearances than either Adams or Carlson, was less powerful than either of the two, but was around the range of Taveras’ two-year averages.

My conclusion is to keep Gorman’s power expectations at a reasonable level until he catches up in age and gives us more to go on.

Can Gorman continue to improve? Absolutely. In fact, just this spring, an ESPN “bold predictions” article posed the thought of the rookie hitting 30 home runs in his age 22 campaign with St. Louis in 2022.

MLB debut: 2022
Rule 5 Eligible: 2022

Our 2022 Top 50 series continues

To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects, grading scales and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the Top 50 countdown and 12 in-depth, follow-up articles breaking down the list..

50 Days, 50 Nights, 50 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects for 2022


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