Best friends Gorman, Liberatore leaning on each other on path to Majors

March 9th, 2022
Credit: Kevin Pataky/

JUPITER, Fla. -- The Cardinals have been historically aggressive with the top prospects in their farm system, assigning them to Minor League levels that will challenge them and then quickly promoting them upon a whiff of that player leveling out.

That was exactly the approach the franchise took with its top two prospects, Nolan Gorman and Matthew Liberatore, in 2021 so as to find out exactly what they have in the left-handed slugger and the lefty hurler.

Though there were times of struggles -- and plenty of times when they had to lean on each other for support and advice -- Gorman and Liberatore passed the tests put before them by a Cardinals franchise that is eagerly awaiting their arrivals at the Major League level, possibly as soon as this season.

Following a 2020 season that was completely wiped out for Minor Leaguers, the 22-year-old Liberatore surprisingly opened the 2021 season at Triple-A Memphis. As for the now-21-year-old Gorman, the Cardinals wasted no time with the lefty bopper, promoting him from Double-A Springfield to Triple-A Memphis after he hit 11 home runs in 43 games.

In Memphis, Liberatore and Gorman were not only roommates, but sounding boards for one another when they invariably ran face-first into learning-curve issues after being aggressively pushed through the Minor League system. Their support for one another -- both agree -- is a big reason why they weathered their respective storms and remained on track to soon be big leaguers.

“I don’t want to say [Gorman] struggled because, in the grand scheme of things, he had a lot of success, but I’d say coming from Double-A to Triple-A there were some adjustments he had to make,” recalled Liberatore, who surrendered a line-drive off the wall from his buddy in Wednesday’s first live batting practice session of Minor League Spring Training. “He was kind of going through that at the same time [that] I was going through my adjustments.

“So, it was good to go home, and bounce things off him,” the southpaw added. “In this instance, it wasn’t just, ‘What can we do to get better?’ It was, 'Where are we at? And what can we do to get ourselves out of this little rut?’ That’s always been an invaluable thing for me.”

Gorman and Liberatore, the Cardinals' No. 1 and No. 2-ranked prospects, per MLB Pipeline, have commanded lots of attention this week as the franchise opened its Minor League Spring Training. On Wednesday, Liberatore and Gorman had the unique opportunity of facing off against one another in three rounds of live batting practice. Liberatore registered a strikeout in the first plate appearance, while Gorman had a rocket off the bench and deep fly to the warning track in his next two at-bats.

Gorman, who is making the transition from third base to second base to potentially speed up his path to the Majors, has looked solid with his glove and footwork as a middle infielder.

“I go about my game the same way that I always do,” said Gorman when asked if he has the same mindset as a corner infielder as opposed to a second baseman. “At third base, you’re supposed to be a big power hitter, but if I can carry that over to second base, it will just give more power [to the team], so it’s been a fun transition.”

Once again coming to bat for his good buddy, Liberatore said he doesn’t care where the always-intense Gorman is on the field as long as he is on his side.

“I don’t care as long as he’s behind me,” Liberatore said. “You could stick him in center field, and if he’s behind me, I know he’s going to go balls to the wall. I have that trust in his ability. He’s still the power-hitting, quick-twitch lefty.”

Gorman, the 19th overall pick of the 2018 MLB Draft, ended up smashing 14 home runs, 14 doubles and a triple in 76 games with the Memphis Redbirds. Prior to that he went through a rough patch, having appeared in his first game with Memphis on June 29 and having just three hits in his first 39 Triple-A at-bats.

Gorman’s turnaround came on July 14 when he tallied three hits, including a home run, good enough for 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 .315 that month.

A driving force behind his late-season breakout, Gorman said, was the heady Liberatore, someone who used visualization tactics to help him dig out of a similarly slow start. Liberatore dropped his first three decisions and had a 5.48 ERA in four starts in May. However, he quickly righted his season with a 3-1 June, a strong showing at the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and solid ERAs in August (2.84) and September (2.83).

“He’s super smart in what he does and he’s always studying his pitching and trying to figure out what he can do to get better,” Gorman explained. “Off the field is huge for him to be able to let go. Then, when he gets to the field, focus more on it there.

“Last year, he did a good job of separating himself from the ballfield and when he got home. Of course, we still talk about it when he got home, but that wasn’t the consistent talk of the night. It’s just about letting go, freeing up and not overthinking things. That’s huge for both of us.”