Keep Calm and Hit Bombs: Nick Gordon Can Still Deliver On His Draft-Day Promise

Photo credit: Jonah Hinebaugh-Naples Daily News via USA TODAY Sports

Nick Gordon is busy this spring training. The Minnesota Twins will use him all over the field, filling in for players who are tired or injured. He won’t catch, but he pitched 3.2 innings last year. Gordon is working with Tony Diaz on the infield and Tommy Watkins and Jayce Tingler on the outfield. During the season, he may be playing second base on Tuesday and left field on Wednesday. It takes a lot of preparation to be ready for anything.

So what’s he focused on in Fort Myers?

“Crushing shit,” he said with a slight laugh. “Hitting the ball hard.”

When the Twins drafted him fifth overall in 2014, Gordon said he’d be a 20-plus home run hitter. “I can be a line-drive, gap-to-gap hitter, but I think I can hit 20 to 25 bombs a year,” he offered. “I could be a leadoff guy like Carl Crawford or Derek Jeter.” When I reminded Gordon of his draft-day quote during spring training this year, he casually said he can still deliver on it.

“I love hitting!” he exclaimed. “Oh man, it feels good to hit a homer. It feels really good to hit a home run. And doubles and driving in runs, it feels good.

“But even defense, it feels good taking a hit away. It feels good helping your pitcher, saving runs, no matter what position I’m at. Man, I could be playing the infield; I could be playing the outfield. Making a great play for us feels good either way.”

Gordon occasionally seems indecisive when talking about what he loves about baseball. He came up as an infielder, but the outfield has its perks. Playing defense got him into baseball at a young age, but Gordon loves putting a charge into one. Ultimately, it seems like he’s embraced his role as Minnesota’s super-utility man, even if he doesn’t label himself that way.

“Honestly, man, I really just trust my ability and athleticism,” he said. “I don’t necessarily feel like there is a specific position that I would rather play or want to play. I want to play (wherever he can help).”

Rocco Baldelli says that versatile players like Gordon give him peace of mind. Players frequently get injured or need days off, and he needs guys on the bench who can fill in wherever they have to. It’s helpful that a former top prospect embraces that role. Gordon, 27, is entering his prime and could become Minnesota’s Ben Zobrist this year.

“You’re always looking for guys like that,” said Baldelli. “I was able to play with guys like that. I was able to watch it with the Zobrist types and having Marwin [Gonzalez] here and Nick and a lot of other guys around the league, too.

“But knowing that a guy can play three spots on the field, and they’re going to go out there and do you proud and generally make the plays in the field, helps you in the game a lot. You know, it’s not just before the game and when I’m going to bed at night. It helps you in the middle of the game because you can do most things when you have a guy.”

Gordon has faced adversity to get to this point in his career. The Twins made him a top pick after four losing seasons, hoping he’d be part of a young core that would help them rise from the doldrums. Gordon is the son of Tom Gordon, a three-time All-Star who pitched 21 years in the majors. His brother is Dee Strange-Gordon, a two-time All-Star and 11-year veteran. Naturally, people had high hopes for Nick, given his bloodlines.

Like many top picks, Gordon matriculated quickly through Minnesota’s system. In 2018, he reached Triple-A at age 22. A year later, he hit .298/.342/.459 in Rochester and was on the cusp of reaching the majors. However, Gordon missed all of the 2020 season after battling a bout of gastritis. He dropped to 153 pounds, and while he never harbored thoughts of quitting baseball, he told The Athletic that he’s “lucky to be alive.”

Gordon debuted in 2021, hitting .240/.292/.355 with four homers in 73 games. Last year, he spent the entire year in the majors, hitting .272/.316/.427 with nine homers in 136 games. Gordon played all over in both seasons, but mostly at second base and in the outfield. He’s had to be diligent in his preparation to play all over, constantly getting work in at each position he’s likely to play throughout the week.

“You gotta go to all of them, reps at all of them,” he said. “I kinda go back and forth, infield/outfield every day. One day, I’m in the infield. Today, I may be in the outfield. Just kinda getting work at both, taking the similarities of both and making sure that I key into those things.

“My starts, prep steps, all those kinda things that can apply to both the outfield and the infield, and it just kinda makes it that much more of a smoother transition.”

Gordon doesn’t have a set schedule or number of repetitions at each position. He says his preparation is fluid, based on where he feels he needs work and how his body feels.

“More so by feel, listening to my body,” he said. “Also, listening to the coaches — Rocco, Tommy [Watkins], Jayce [Tingler], whoever and however we gotta get working that day. They are pretty good about it. And even Tommy, when it comes to infield and outfield, he understands as well.

“Man, I couldn’t really ask for a better support system than that.”

He also says that Byron Buxton and Carlos Correa, two players he could potentially step in for, have helped him prepare.

“I got the best of coaches and the best of the players. So honestly, man, I can’t complain,” he said. “I feel like they definitely helped me put myself in the best place to succeed.”

In some ways, Gordon has become connective tissue in the locker room. Usually, catchers are the glue guys because they work with the pitchers and position players. But utility guys can fill that role too. Gordon’s generally well-liked among the players and coaches, radiating serenity despite all he’s gone through to reach the majors.

“Nick’s role, just as it was in the past, is going to be to give us whatever we need,” said Baldelli.

He’s the right person for that. He’s got the right mentality for that. One thing every person that’s been around Nick says about him is he’s a joy to be around. He’s a baseball player. He just wants to go out and help the team win games. That’s really where he starts his day every day. That’s where he’s going to continue to start. He’s going to play all around the field. [Gordon is] going to get work in center. He’s going to get work in the corners. He’s going to get work at every infield position, including first base.

[Gordon is] going to give himself every opportunity to go out there and help us. He made great strides offensively last year and taking care of himself and understanding what it takes for him to reach his potential as a player. He’s done that; he’s done a good job of that. He’s going to have to keep going in that direction. I have no doubt that he will. There’s going to be a lot of times when Nick is pressed into different types of action. We don’t know exactly when and where on the field that’s going to be, but I do know he’s going to be ready for it.

Gordon says he loves to hit, but defense got him into the game at a young age.

“I used to love Derek Jeter, so I was always trying to make a jump throw. And I was always more on the smaller side, so I didn’t really have too much power as a kid, so I didn’t hit too many homers.

“Hitting was fun, it’s always been fun, but I think it’s definitely gotten more fun over the years.”

After battling gastritis and ascending through the majors, Gordon has arrived. He’s at the beginning of his prime and has over 650 plate appearances during his first two years in the majors. The Twins trust him to put in the work to play all over and be a positive influence in the clubhouse. Gordon appears up for the task.

“I grew up playing infield my whole life; it’s just always what I’ve done,” he said. “I wouldn’t necessarily say I prefer either over [the other]. They both have their perks. Honestly, if I get to hit, I’m fine.”

So long as he can hold his own all over the diamond, he’ll get plenty of plate appearances this year. Enough, perhaps, to hit 20 to 25 bombs and occasionally lead off.

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