Nick Gordon is the biggest underdog on the 2020 Minnesota Twins.
I know what you’re thinking. Can a former top-five pick in the first round truly be considered an underdog? After five seasons in the minor leagues, nary a cup of coffee in the majors, and a fall from consensus top-70 prospect status to being a borderline non-prospect, the answer to that question is undoubtedly “yes”.
Back before the COVID-19 pandemic shutdown Spring Training, Gordon was optioned to Triple-A. It was only March 9, yet the Twins had made the decision that their former first-rounder would be starting the year in Rochester.
A combination of Gordon’s questionable range and shortstop Jorge Polanco’s contract extension just prior to the start of the 2019 season led to thought that Gordon could start 2020 as the Twins’ second basemen. Jonathan Schoop was only on a one-year deal, after all, potentially bridging the gap from Brian Dozier to Gordon.
Polanco remains entrenched as the starting shortstop, fresh off a campaign that saw him earn the starting shortstop position for the American League at the All-Star Game. Schoop is gone, now the second baseman for old friend Ron Gardenhire and the woebegone Detroit Tigers. But Luis Arraez came out of nowhere and emphatically changed all of that.
That leaves the utility role. But Ehire Adrianza somehow clung to his roster spot through the first part of 2019, eventually putting together a career-year at the plate to go along with above-average defense around the infield. A passable bat and a plus-glove appear to be the combination that the Twins are looking for from their final bench spot, and combined with Marwin Gonzalez’s pop and positional flexibility, manager Rocco Baldelli is set in the utility category.
So, what do we make of Nick Gordon, the former No. 5-overall draft selection heading into the 2020 season?
Gordon has been nothing if not consistent in the minors. His 2019 line of .298/.342/.459 in 319 plate appearances at Triple-A Rochester was a nice improvement over his overall line of .276/.329/.385 across five seasons, but he only played in 70 games due to injury. The only real bump in the road came in his first taste of Triple-A back in 2018 at the age of 22.
Gordon’s strikeout rate remains a bit high for a player without much pop in his bat, but he’s maintained a solid batting average while not walking as much as he should. If his slight 2019 improvement in plate discipline is for real, than Gordon is showing legitimate growth, even without the ability to knock the ball over the fence.
Part of the problem with Gordon is that while he can hold his own at shortstop, he profiles as a second baseman if he’s going to become an everyday player. Adrianza, on the other hand, is easily the best defensive shortstop of the trio of Polanco, Gordon, and Adrianza, and with his decent-enough bat, he has the clear edge as the backup.
26-man something-like-30-man roster that teams will have in 2020 when the season eventually gets off the ground. After Adrianza, Willians Astudillo’s ability to play catcher and his bat-to-ball skill at the plate would earn him the nod. The next man up in terms of infielders would have to be Gordon, as he would be the primary backup at second base and could slot in there if Arraez spends games at third base spelling Josh Donaldson.
If Gordon gets off to a hot start as a member of the 30-man roster, it’s easy to see him earning some additional playing time. There’s still plenty more upside to his game than Adrianza’s, and a massively-expanded roster could be just what Gordon needs to break into the bigs.
That’s the immediate impact that Gordon could have. But don’t discount the possibility, however small it might be, that Arraez has some regression from his rookie year as opposing pitchers learn how to attack the 22-year-old contact maestro. Plus, Polanco becomes exceedingly expensive in 2024 — yes, it’s a few years from now, but if Gordon shows the ability to stick at shortstop and his bat plays in the majors, the Twins could always consider a sell-high on Polanco.
It’s admittedly more likely that a middle-infield prospect with a still-higher ceiling — think Wander Javier or even Keoni Cavaco — would unseat Polanco in the future, but anything is possible. A year ago, did anyone have Arraez on their radar as the starting second baseman for the defending A.L. Central champion Minnesota Twins?
The bet here is that the combination of an average skill-set across the board both offensively and defensively, combined with the opportunity of an expanded roster, will allow Gordon to become a notable contributor to the 2020 Twins.
You never know, we just might look up in October and be ready to pencil Nick Gordon in as a vital piece of the 2021 roster.