St. Louis Cardinals: 2019 was a constructive year for Nolan Gorman
By Matt Graves
After looking invincible in 2018, Nolan Gorman finally faced some struggles in the lower levels of the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor leagues. These struggles were necessary and will help in the long run.
Widely regarded as the best power bat in the 2018 MLB Draft, Nolan Gorman exploded out of the gates in his career with the St. Louis Cardinals. After going 19th overall on draft day, Gorman played in 64 games between Johnson City and Low-A Peoria smashing 17 homers with a .949 OPS.
This did more than just put Gorman on prospect maps, it put them squarely in the middle of them. Before the 2019 season started, Gorman was ranked numbers 75, 61, and 34 by Baseball America, Major League Baseball, and Baseball Prospectus in terms of the best prospects in the sport. That is high praise for an 18-year-old.
Fans were also bitten by the Gorman bug, immediately dreaming of his sweet lefty swing in Cardinals red hitting bombs. It was a great first year for Gorman, but he was doing it at the lowest levels of the minor leagues and doing it before anyone had an idea of how to attack him.
2019 started off well for Gorman as he broke out of the gates with a 1.000+ OPS and six homers in April alone while still in Peoria. From there, the 19-year-old struggled in May (.766 OPS) then fell on his face in June (.532 OPS). This is all expected for a young player, especially one playing at such an advanced level so soon.
Pitchers just figured out how to pitch to him and he had to learn how to adjust.
In what seemed like a plan that was decided long before Gorman’s struggles, he was moved up to High-A Palm Beach at the minor league All-Star break. This move didn’t really make sense at the time because a hitter who is struggling at the lower level shouldn’t be expected to go to a higher level (in an infamously poor batters league) and be successful.
I feared for Gorman’s confidence at the time, as it’s easy for a prospect to lose it when they are so young and slip back into the abyss. It was a big test, and over time, Gorman passed.
The biggest knock on Gorman is his strikeouts. He’s a big swinger that has a ton of power but struggles to connect at times. At Peoria in 2018, his strikeout rate was an astronomical 36.4% which is unsustainably bad.
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Gorman grew and dropped that to 28% (still high but more acceptable) in 2019 before he was advanced to Palm Beach. At Palm Beach, it jumped back up to 31.7% which is something he just needs to keep working on.
Gorman did show he could roll with the punches at Palm Beach though as he kept his OPS above .700. That’s a low bar, but looking back at the path that Dylan Carlson took, his OPS was one point lower than Gormans in his time at Palm Beach.
This isn’t to say that Gorman is going to be the same caliber of player as Carlson (who jumped Gorman in prospect rankings this year), as Gorman’s OBP was 40 points lower than Carlson’s.
Gorman did get up above the #30 ranking in MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list at one point this year, but with Carlson’s breakout and Gorman’s struggles, they flipped to where Carlson is at #24 and Gorman is #38. Gorman just has some work to do to figure out exactly what kind of player he is going to be. He and Carlson are both great prospects, but they are different types of players. Gorman will never have a high OBP but he will hit plenty more homers.
Just as 2019 was huge for the trajectory of Dylan Carlson, 2020 will be huge for Gorman’s. At his peak, Gorman has been compared to Joey Gallo and his monster skill set with the bat. At the lowest, Gorman could be Chris Davis/Tyler O’Neill-esque and hit solely for power. Carlson has proven himself to be in the top tier of prospect, Gorman has not.
Gorman got much more comfortable both in the field and at the plate at Palm Beach and will probably continue to be pushed by the organization. He will probably either start the season or quickly be moved to AA Springfield where he could have success like Carlson before him.
Carlson’s 2019 was a true anomaly and I wouldn’t think that Gorman, who objectively has more work to do than Carlson did, will be able to repeat. This isn’t a negative thing at all as Gorman is still just 19 years old and has plenty of time to grow and develop.
It was a growth and humbling year for Nolan Gorman who is still completely deserving of the praise he has gotten. Every player’s path to the MLB is different and Gorman will still end up there eventually, he just may not be a meteor in the same way that Carlson was, and there’s nothing wrong with that.