Gorman hoping to make Cardinals roster any way he can

March 12th, 2022

JUPITER, Fla. -- Any time Nolan Gorman gets ahead of himself and allows his mind to dream about what it would be like to be in the Major Leagues with the Cardinals -- as either a converted second baseman or a heavy-hitting DH -- he is reminded of a mantra taught to him years ago that helps to keep him present.

“Be where your feet are,” as Gorman puts it, referring to the act of focusing on the task at hand instead of peering too far off into the distant future. The only way he’s going to maximize his potential -- and ultimately end up in the big leagues with the Cardinals -- is by focusing in on what he needs to do to improve, Gorman insisted.

“You’ve just got to be where your feet are, and whatever you are doing that day, go about it day by day, and you can’t think about the future,” Gorman said Saturday after wrapping up workouts in the Cardinals' Minor League Spring Training. “You’re going to [think about the future], but you still just have to take it day by day.”

It’s understandable that the 21-year-old Gorman might allow his mind to drift off and think about the future considering that he is the top-rated prospect in the Cardinals' farm system, per MLB Pipeline, and potentially on the precipice of starting his big league career in a matter of weeks. There is plenty of intrigue surrounding Gorman’s future considering the number of questions the Cardinals must answer and the many options at their disposal.

For example, do they dare replace Gold Glove second baseman Tommy Edman with a converted second baseman such as Gorman just to get the pop of his left-handed bat in the lineup? Do the Cardinals take Gorman north with them when camp breaks and install him as the first full-time DH in the franchise’s illustrious history? Or do they leave Gorman at Triple-A Memphis where he can continue to work on making the transition to second base and develop as a middle-of-the-order fixture who can hit for average and power?

“We have three young guys who are pretty excited about trying to get at-bats in the big leagues -- [Lars] Nootbaar, Gorman and [Juan] Yepez. We want to make sure whatever we do isn’t impeding development of these young players as well,” said president of baseball operations John Mozeliak when asked about the organization potentially adding a free agent as a DH. “Is [Gorman] the best or one of the best 26? The bigger question, really, is, ‘How much is he going to play?’

“When you have a young player who’s performed well in camp, but he’s not going to get 25 or 26 plate appearances in a week, is that in his best interest?” Mozeliak asked. “So I don’t want to just reward three weeks of play for possibly sacrificing development. The key for somebody like Gorman is, ‘Can he get playing time at the big league level? And where?’ And, most importantly, ‘Will he continue to grow as a player?’”

Mozeliak noted that DH might present the quickest path to the Majors for Gorman, who hit .279 and slugged .481 with 25 home runs, 20 doubles and 75 RBIs last season at Double-A Springfield and Memphis. Gorman, the 19th overall pick of the 2018 MLB Draft, did much of his damage (14 home runs and 14 doubles in 76 games) at Memphis. He did initially struggle with the transition from Double-A to Triple-A with just three hits in his first 39 Triple-A at bats. But Gorman’s turnaround came on July 14 when he had three hits, a home run, three RBIs and six total bases against Norfolk. He went on to hit four home runs in July and six more in August while also batting .316 that month.

He did all of that while making the transition defensively from third base to second base. That move was made as a result of the Cardinals trading for Nolan Arenado -- the winner of nine straight Gold Glove Awards at third base. On the advice of former Cardinal Kolten Wong -- a two-time Gold Glove Award winner -- and Edman, Gorman spent several weeks in January and February before camp working with infield guru José Oquendo to learn the finer points of the position.

New Cardinals manager Oliver Marmol said this week that Gorman seems more relaxed and instinctual now at the position, and the converted second baseman agrees.

“I started feeling that way last year when I was playing more second base,” Gorman said. “This year, it’s a little more [natural]. I definitely feel smoother over there, so it’s been good.”

While he’ll gladly travel any route that will help speed up his trek to the Majors, Gorman somewhat bristles at the mention of him being used exclusively as a DH. Maybe it’s because he’s put in so much time learning to play second base. Or maybe it just speaks to his intense competitive nature.

“DH has never really been in my vocabulary,” he said. “I want to be a Gold Glove defender. That’s what the Cardinals pride themselves on -- defense, especially, so being able to be that caliber and being able to help the team on the defensive side would be great.”

However, in a different breath, Gorman said: “At-bats in the big leagues are at-bats in the big leagues, and you can help a team win by scoring runs and producing as a DH.”

All of that, of course, is looking ahead to a future that is both bright and cloudy at this point for Gorman. All of it reminds him of the message he was taught some nine years ago -- “be where your feet are” -- while playing youth baseball alongside fellow Cardinals hopeful, Matthew Liberatore, who is rated as the No. 2 prospect in the franchise’s farm system.

“From when I was a 12-year-old, that’s what I’ve been preached to by my dad, and Libby’s dad -- who were our club coaches growing up -- and it’s kind of just stuck with me for a long time,” Gorman said. “[At-bats are] out of my control, what kind of at-bats they will give me in the big leagues. Hopefully, I can do what I can with the bat, and we’ll go from there.”