PHOENIX, Ariz. -- Nolan Gorman can hit. His bat has long impressed evaluators and he was widely regarded as one of the top high school sluggers in the 2018 Draft class.
There’s little doubt his bat will ultimately play at the next level. However, he needs a defensive home.
Gorman was drafted as a third baseman and spent the first couple years of his career at the hot corner, but once St. Louis acquired Nolan Arenado it became clear Gorman needed to find a new position if he was going to crack the Cardinals’ lineup.
The Cardinals’ No. 1 prospect made the switch to second base this season and spent 77 games at the keystone between Double-A Springfield and Triple-A Memphis. St. Louis then sent Gorman to the Arizona Fall League, where he’ll get additional game reps at his new position.
“I feel good over there,” Gorman said. “I went down to Spring Training early, got some work in and throughout the season [I’ve] been able to make adjustments on the fly, learn the position each and every day. It’s been fun and I’ve liked it so far.”
Not only has Gorman enjoyed the switch, but he’s thrived. The 21-year-old impressed club officials with his work ethic and ability to make quick adjustments. Gorman also put his defensive aptitude on display early in the Fall League, making a highlight-reel play in the second inning on opening night.
Of course, playing a new position is always a work in progress and Gorman admits there are still some difficulties.
“Just knowing where to be on certain plays,” Gorman said when asked about some of the challenges. “At second base you’re always in a play, no matter what’s going on. At third base, you can be a little bit more laid back. There’s not as much going on with cuts and relays and all that.”
Changing positions is never easy, but Gorman bought in immediately which not only helped ease the transition, but also bodes well for his future in St. Louis and helps pave the wave for what will be a very talented infield -- likely at some point in the 2022 season.
“It’s more of I get to play with Arenado now, than I have to compete with this guy for a position,” Gorman said. “We both want to win a World Series and do great things for this team. Being able to play with him and compete with him and learn from him is going to be obviously tremendous for me and my development.”
Cardinals hitters in the Fall League
Brendan Donovan, 3B (No. 18): Donovan worked his way up three levels in 2021, finishing the year in Triple-A, where he won Triple-A East Offensive Player of the Week honors in mid-September. Donovan’s bat was viewed as his best tool when the Cardinals selected him in the seventh round of the 2018 Draft and the 24-year-old put together his best offensive season in 2021. Donovan hit a career high 12 homers, drove in 66 runs and slashed .304/.399/.455.
Juan Yepez, 1B/OF (No. 27): One of the top performers in the Cardinals’ system this season, Yepez set career highs in homers (27), RBIs (77) and slugging (.586) and reached Triple-A for the first time. The 23-year-old has consistently posted high exit velocities throughout his career, but had previously been more of a gap-to-gap hitter. A refined approach help Yepez drive more balls out of the park this season and the Cardinals feel that’s a sign of things to come. A breakout 2021 campaign elevated Yepez’s prospect stock and a strong showing in the Arizona Fall League could put him on track to make his Major League debut early in 2022. In fact, he nearly got that opportunity in the postseason as he cracked the Cardinals Wild Card Game roster.
Lars Nootbaar, OF: An eighth-round pick from the 2018 Draft, Nootbaar began the year with Triple-A Memphis and made his Major League debut in late June. The 24-year-old hit .239 with five homers over 58 games in the big leagues. While he doesn’t have a standout tool, Nootbaar is a solid all-around player with above average speed and good instincts and versatility in the outfield. Over the course of his career he’s shown good strike zone awareness and an ability to make quick adjustments, though he did struggle a bit offensively in his first taste of the Majors. Nootbaar still needs reps against advanced pitching, which he’ll get in Arizona as he continues to work on refining his approach.
Cardinals pitchers in the Fall League
Zack Thompson, LHP (No. 8): A first-round pick from the 2019 Draft (19th overall), Thompson was aggressively assigned to Triple-A Memphis in 2021 after spending 2020 at the Cardinals alternate training site. The lefty didn’t miss as many bats as he had previously and also saw his walk rate increase as he posted a 7.06 ERA over 22 games (19 starts). While some of the struggles can likely be attributed to the increased competition and the lost 2020 season, it’d go a long way for Thompson to have a strong showing in Arizona.
Jordan Hicks, RHP: Hicks made 10 appearances out of the Cardinals’ bullpen before landing on the injured list with a right elbow injury in early May. The injury kept Hicks out the remainder of the season and he’s in Arizona to make up for lost time. The fact that Hicks is throwing in games is certainly a good sign and he’s expected to be ready to go for Spring Training if everything goes well in the Fall League.
Andre Pallante, RHP: Pallante spent the bulk of his first full season with Double-A Springfield, where he posted a 3.82 ERA and struck out 82 over 94 1/3 innings. The 2019 fourth-round pick typically sits in the low- to mid-90s with his fastball and also throws both a slider and curveball. While Pallante spent all of 2021 starting, there are some who feel he’ll ultimately wind up pitching out of the bullpen, allowing his fastball to play up a bit as it’s used in shorter stints.
Jake Walsh, RHP: Walsh, a 16th-round pick out of Florida Southern, is making up for lost time in Arizona after missing roughly two and a half months this season. When he was healthy, the 2017 Draft pick pitched to a 1.50 ERA with 25 strikeouts over 18 innings for Double-A Springfield. Walsh also earned a late season promotion to Triple-A Memphis, where he gave up four runs over four innings.