As he usually does when he needs to release some emotion, Nick Gordon turned to the microphone while he was sidelined with COVID-19 last season. A lot of the music he makes, he keeps to himself -- and he definitely noticed some of his work getting a bit darker, a reflection of both the challenges he saw in his professional career and in the world around him.
Some Twins players who dealt with the virus, like Miguel Sanó and Willians Astudillo, were able to get back on the field and contribute in 2020. But Gordon couldn’t shake it. As the weeks passed, he continued to test positive and ended up missing the entire season -- another year that his body betrayed his push for the big leagues.
That’s probably why it was so tough to shake the smile from Gordon’s face this spring before he was optioned off the big league roster on Monday, even as the former top prospect and first-round selection arrived without any clear path to breaking camp with the Twins. He had a lot of time to put things in perspective and reflect as the months went by last year, and he’s found a good deal of positivity in just being able to return to the game he loves.
“There’s already enough negative stuff going on around me anyway, with my body and things like that, and you’ve just got to find the best in everything,” Gordon said. “That definitely made me see the other end of it, see the better side of it and helped me to fight to get to where I want to be. I’m still not there. I definitely still have work to do.”
It hasn’t just been COVID-19, though Gordon was unfortunate enough to feel two distinct waves of symptoms. He lost nearly 15 pounds -- and if you’ve seen Gordon, you know he didn’t have much weight to spare. He was weak and couldn’t eat. After three to four weeks, more symptoms hit him, including the loss of taste and smell. He isolated for a while in a hotel room, away from his family.
Things were made worse by the fact that the symptoms interacted with Gordon's longtime struggles with gastritis, which have weakened him for nearly three years. He hasn’t felt like himself that whole time, he said, but hopes to have turned a corner this spring.
"I've actually been feeling a lot better,” Gordon said. “I definitely want to get stronger and things like that, but I've definitely been feeling a lot better in getting some things under control. That'll only make other things better. Hopefully I've reached a turning point with that and I'm able to grow up from this."
Gordon was 2-for-10 with a run scored in limited action as a backup this spring before he was optioned to get more consistent action on the Minor League side. That’s the biggest barrier: The ramp-up to everyday activity. The major goal for this spring is for the Twins to see if Gordon’s body can handle the increased workload after all he’s been through these past few years, which also included time missed in 2019 with a left thigh strain and a left knee contusion.
Gordon is now 25 years old without a Major League appearance, and his best chance yet at cracking the roster was thwarted by his body in 2019, when he hit .298 with an .801 OPS in Triple-A but was shelved with injury when Minnesota needed a middle infielder. Luis Arraez got that call instead, jumped Gordon on the organizational depth chart and looks to be a fixture of the Twins’ future.
In the meantime, Gordon, once the No. 2 prospect in the organization per MLB Pipeline, has dropped out of the Top 30.
There’s no clear opportunity on this roster, but the Twins still see the talent in Gordon’s hit tool that showed up when he was last on the field in 2019, and they hope that his body can hold up enough for him to play his way into that conversation.
“We all know he has talent,” president of baseball operations Derek Falvey said. “We all know he has the ability to contribute at the upper levels and hopefully at the Major League level. ... He's got more advanced skills there than I think most young kids do. That was always there. Now, he hasn't been able to play as much, so there's definitely some lag in development. But as long as he can continue to stay on the field, he'll be able to refine some of those skills."
“Ultimately, this is a time in the career where it is about production,” farm director Alex Hassan said. “It's less projection, and it's more about what are you doing at this moment. So we hope Nick goes out and has a really good season and provides some much-needed depth for our Major League group."
Once, Gordon might have worried about those things more -- but right now, he’s just overjoyed to be immersed once again in the game that he “loves to death.” His outlook on life is improved through all the time he spent away from the game -- time he was able to spend with his 2-year-old son, Jaxon. The baseball will play out how it will.
"I'm just glad to be here, man,” Gordon said. “Any opportunity I can get, I'm going to take advantage of. I'm just happy to be out on the field, happy to even have a spot to be able to put this uniform on. So I'm just thankful for that. I know I've been through a lot. Like I said, I just take the best out of everything that I can, and whatever opportunities I get, I'm going to take advantage of them."