JUPITER, Fla. -- Word spreads quickly in Major League Baseball -- both in terms of a player’s exploits and their weaknesses -- and the nature of scouting reports can sometimes feel as if players are being picked on by a gang sharing the same game plan.
Cardinals rookie Nolan Gorman found that out the hard way during a 2022 rookie season filled with both tremendous highs and humbling lows. This spring, the 22-year-old is working to address the holes in his swing so there will be more 400-foot home runs and fewer high-fastball strikeouts.
After mauling Minor League pitching for 16 home runs in a little more than a month and clubbing six home runs in his first 28 MLB games, Gorman saw a shift in how pitchers attacked him. Gone were the off-speed and breaking pitches that he jumped on to hit nine of his first 10 home runs more than 400 feet. Instead, he started seeing a steady slew of elevated fastballs that shut him down. By mid-September, his struggles landed him back in the Minor Leagues.
Such a result could have rattled the confidence of many young players, but Gorman -- the Cardinals’ first-round Draft pick in 2018 -- learned from the uneven results. His willingness to make changes and to put in the necessary offseason work have made him even more stubborn and steadfast entering his sophomore season.
“I never went into it thinking I could or couldn’t do this; it’s always been, ‘This is the only thing I know and this is all I’m going to do, and I’m going to make it work,’” Gorman said. “There was never a moment where I said, ‘OK, I can stick here.’ I am going to stick here because that’s what’s going to happen. Because there’s no fallback plan.”
With a cursory glance, it would appear Gorman had a passable rookie season. He finished with 30 home runs and 61 RBIs in 132 games across both the Majors and Triple-A, and he was an adequate second baseman after switching positions from third the year prior.
However, baseball’s advanced metrics painted a vastly different picture. Defensively, Gorman was last in baseball among second basemen in Outs Above Average (-12) and he didn’t fare much better in Defensive Runs Saved (-5, 28th of 29 players with at least 500 innings at the position). At the plate, he had a 32.9 percent strikeout rate, and his batting average plunged to .192 when he saw fastballs (58.2 percent of the time), while he hit .255 with nine homers on breaking and off-speed pitches.
The Cardinals stressed to Gorman that mechanical changes were needed to fix the flaws in his swing. He spent much of his offseason hitting in the cage -- both against high-velocity pitching machines and pitchers feeding him a host of heaters. During one BP session off the high-velocity machine earlier this week, Gorman raised eyebrows by powering several home runs onto a field butted up against the one he was hitting on.
“He’s moving faster and ... there’s more explosiveness in his swing,” Cards manager Oliver Marmol said. “Mechanically, the swing is flatter and that helps at the top of the zone and being able to get to the fastball that’s up. It’s different than last year when he kind of had that uphill move where he was collapsing and coming up through the zone.
”He went into the offseason really wanting to address it, and when you watch him hit BP, he’s getting to that pitch now. It’s not forced and it’s coming with ease. To his credit, he took the information, he applied it and he’s a different guy now.”
That is what the Cardinals were hoping for from one of their high-ceiling prospects. Other than signing catcher Willson Contreras, St. Louis did not add a slugger to replace Albert Pujols as the primary DH. Perhaps Gorman has made the changes needed to hit elevated fastballs and use his powerful lefty bat to supplement the righty-heavy lineup.
“I think my game is better in all aspects,” said Gorman, who has also worked with defensive instructor José Oquendo. “That’s what the offseason is for, and I went into it trying to get better in every way. I wouldn’t say my power has changed, because I’ve never had a power issue. It’s just about movements and how I’m getting to the ball. I worked on those things, and I think I’ll get better results.”