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Cardinals trade reunites close friends

@JonathanMayo
January 9, 2020

Cardinals third-base prospect Nolan Gorman was playing mini-golf in Palm Beach, Fla. on Thursday when his best friend called him. He was with a group of fellow young Cardinals on an outing during the organization’s instructs program, so he didn’t answer. Then his friend texted, saying he needed to talk

Cardinals third-base prospect Nolan Gorman was playing mini-golf in Palm Beach, Fla. on Thursday when his best friend called him. He was with a group of fellow young Cardinals on an outing during the organization’s instructs program, so he didn’t answer.

Then his friend texted, saying he needed to talk to him. Eventually Gorman called him, Matthew Liberatore, and got the news that everyone had been talking about.

“I called him and he told me, ‘I’ve been traded. I’m coming to the Cardinals,'” Gorman said.

The trade that brought Liberatore, No. 41 on MLB Pipeline’s 2019 Top 100 Prospects list, into the same organization as Gorman, ranked just ahead of his friend at No. 38, sent Jose Martinez and prospect Randy Arozarena to the Tampa Bay Rays.

“It was kind of shock, surprise, anything to do with those two,” Gorman said. “We’ve often talked about playing pro ball together, playing for the same team. I was excited about it and from what I can tell, he’s pretty excited about it as well.

“Obviously, we haven’t gone through being traded. I asked him how he felt and he said he was a little surprised they traded him, but he knew he was going to a good organization and the Cards wanted him. He’s excited to come over and start a new chapter with us.”

Gorman and Liberatore have been teammates, competitors and close friends pretty much since they started playing baseball in the Phoenix area. Their families have vacationed together, they played travel ball together, went to summer showcase events together and eventually, became Draft prospects together. As the spotlight got brighter, the duo did let themselves dream about making the next step in tandem.

“When the Draft stuff started to pick up for us, we would talk about playing pro ball and how cool it would be to start our career and get to the dream of playing in the big leagues and being there for a long time,” said Gorman, who was the 19th overall pick of the 2018 Draft, three selections after Liberatore was taken by the Rays. “That all happened for us. The first offseason for us, after a half season of pro ball, we said, ‘Can you imagine playing together?’”

Now they’ll get that chance. The pair both spent their first Spring Trainings in Florida, albeit on opposite coasts of the state. Whether they play together once the season starts remains to be seen -- Gorman spent half of 2019 a level higher than Liberatore in the Class A Advanced Florida State League -- but the slugging third-base prospect isn’t worried about that now. He can’t wait for them to be with each other every day throughout the Grapefruit League season.

“It’s not going to be any different from when we were in high school or playing summer ball together and staying in the same hotel room,” said Gorman, who will be in Palm Beach until Wednesday and then head to St. Louis for caravan and Winter Warmup appearances. “It’s just going to push us to get even better, keeping each other accountable. We already talked about finding a place to stay together, with a couple of other guys. I’m excited to get him here and show him how the Cardinals do it.”

It’s really just a continuation of what their offseason looks like. Back home in Arizona, Gorman and Liberatore are with each other nearly every day. While they don’t work out together, they do train in the same place, the Fuel Factory, a facility started by Liberatore’s father, Anthony, and his pitching coach Jonathan Huizinga. Extending that to within the same organization can only be a positive.

“I think it’s good we get to be with each other,” Gorman said. “As kids, we always pushed each other to be better. We have that mentality to be the best player. Playing behind him while he’s pitching, I want to see him succeed, I’ll want to make the plays and score runs for him.”

Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLBPipeline.com. Follow him on Twitter @JonathanMayo and Facebook, and listen to him on the weekly Pipeline Podcast.