188 is a composite number with six divisors. It is also featured in the name of a main belt asteroid called “188 Menippe.” If you’re like me, you just pronounced that in your head as “many pee pee.” 150 is composite as well, and is in fact the sum of eight consecutive prime numbers ranging from seven to 31. It also represents the number of times per year in which my car’s warranty unexpectedly expires (or so I’m told). But I know you probably don’t care too much about Menippe, or my car’s warranty, and instead you’re wondering what the significance is of these two numbers. Well, to date, Cardinals third base prospect Nolan Gorman has played 188 career games in professional baseball. 150 have come above Rookie ball. That’s less than a full MLB season. For a power-first, left-handed bat drafted out of high school, that’s too small of a sample size to properly deduce what caliber of player Gorman is going to become. For a player of his prototype, it is reasonable to expect a steeper learning curve at every Minor League level along the way. Everyone needs to learn to adjust as a young player in the farm, but for a prospect with 60-grade power and no history of experiencing prolonged failure as a hitter in his life until reaching Single-A, that game of adjustments will be far bumpier. As a result, today we’re going to take an in-depth look under the hood and throw our TSA shirts on — and I’ll let you know if Gorman is a player to pack for your journey through dynasty dominance.
As always, let’s begin with the basic details for those readers who may not have existing knowledge of the young slugger. Gorman was selected by St. Louis with the 19th overall pick of the 2018 MLB Draft, possessing quite possibly the best raw power of any prep player in the class. Leading up to the draft, Gorman gained some notoriety as a result of the impressive displays he put on at numerous home run derbies from the left side of the plate. As it stands today, he sits at 6-1 with a weight of 210 pounds, and he won’t be able to have a legal drink until May of this year. Our very own The Itch ranked Gorman No. 3 in his Top 10 St. Louis Cardinals Prospects for 2021 Fantasy Baseball, citing concerns about his lofty strikeout rates while providing some tempered optimism for the year ahead. For those into video and scouting themselves, you can find footage of his two-run homer at the 2017 Perfect Game All-American Classic here, and some 2018 pre-draft scouting footage from Fangraphs here.
After being drafted in the first round in 2018, Gorman was given the typical Rookie-level assignment and made the Cardinals look smart right out of the gate. Then again, it’s Rookie ball and most prospect pundits, myself included, tend to take Rookie league performances with a grain of salt. For what it’s worth, however, Gorman slashed .350/.443/.664 with a 22.2 K%, 14.4 BB%, 11 home runs and 22 XBH across 38 games/143 at bats. Not a bad start for an 18-year-old kid seeing professional pitching for the first time, as he homered every 13 at bats and posted a 1.107 OPS. Now, we’re never going to expect a slash line of that stature at the MLB level from Gorman, nor will anyone be projecting him to replicate that 1.107 OPS ever again, but what about the strikeout and walk rates? In Rookie ball, Gorman was seemingly as comfortable as 12-year-old me in a beanbag chair — life revolved around eating gummies and playing Nintendo. As he gets comfortable while adapting at various other levels of the Minors, could a similar K% and BB% be attainable? Well, that’s all part of Gorman’s polarizing profile, one all-too-common for power-first bats in the modern game.
When Gorman made the jump to Single-A in 2018, the strikeouts skyrocketed to a 36.4 K% over a 107 plate appearance sample size. Oof. It didn’t all come at the beginning of his promotion, either, as Gorman actually began on a relatively strong pace. Through his first 50 professional games (38 @ ROK + 12 @ Single A), Gorman blasted 15 home runs — more than any other player from the 2018 draft class. Things got shaky from there on out, however, as Gorman finished his first full pro season (63 games) with 17 total long balls, accompanied by the aforementioned 36.4% strikeout rate at Single-A. During those 25 games/107 PAs at Single-A, Gorman slashed .202/.280/.426 with a 9.3 BB%, six homers and three doubles. He saw his strikeout rate jump up 14.2%, his walk rate fall 5.1%, his OPS drop .401 points and he went from registering an extra base hit every 1.73 games at Rookie level to just once every 2.78 games at Single-A. Putting it nicely, Gorman was challenged making the jump from Rookie level to Single-A and pitchers exploited the holes in his powerful, left-handed approach. He ended his first pro season split across the two levels with a respectable .291/.380/.570 batting line, but it was clear Gorman needed to show an ability to adjust as a hitter during the 2019 developmental year.
Gorman received a non-roster invite to Spring Training with the Cardinals in 2019, popping a home run in live game action — which you can admire below.
Nolan Gorman was born in 2000 ?
I feel old ? pic.twitter.com/4v8aCjqV0t
— Baseball Bros (@BaseballBros) March 16, 2019
Truthfully, I went out of my way to include this clip, simply because I deemed it more relevant for our analysis in this exercise than Gorman’s ability to hit Rookie level or Single-A pitching. Following Spring Training, Gorman was assigned back to Single-A Peoria, and while the results were not necessarily eye-popping, they do tell a rather intriguing — and encouraging — story.
Across 67 games/282 PAs at Single-A in 2019, Gorman slashed .241/.344/.448 with a 28.0 K%, 11.3 BB%, 10 home runs, three triples and 14 doubles. Although a .792 OPS for an elite prospect is rather lukewarm, the 28.0 K%, while lofty, signified a drop of 8.4% from Gorman’s previous strikeout rate at Single-A one year prior. On top of that, he increased his walks by 2.0%, improved every component of his slash line and collected an XBH every 2.48 games — up from one every 2.78 games the previous year. For perspective, Bryce Harper collected an extra base hit one every 2.42 games in 2020 while batting 57% above league average. Truth be told, Gorman’s 2019 Single-A showing is not so much impressive, as it is evidence of the fact that he possesses the ability to fail, go back to the drawing board, learn, effectively grow and come back better against the same level of competition. That makes all the difference in the world when considering his subsequent promotion to High-A in 2019.
At High-A, Gorman produced similar extra base power but again saw his strikeout and walk rates return to gruesome form. Playing in 58 games and seeing 230 plate appearances, Gorman batted .256/.304/.428 with 31.7 K% (up 3.7% from Single-A), 5.7 BB% (down 5.6% from Single-A), five home runs, three triples and 16 doubles. While his 43.0 AB/HR indicate he struggled to leave the yard, the extra base pop, as a whole, stayed consistent as he recorded an XBH every 2.42 games. Even so, the 31.7 K% paired with a 5.7 BB% is more than worrisome. As The Itch put it, “if he strikes out 30 percent of the time again repeating the A+ level, his prospect stock will sink.” I would have to agree, quite honestly. It doesn’t take a genius to concur with that. My optimism, however, extends from Gorman’s power-heavy hitting profile coupled with the improvements he made in his contact skills from 2018 in Single-A to 2019 in Single-A. He is failing, yes, but he is also learning. Gorman was never going to be a bat whose trip through the Minors resembled a smooth trip to grandma’s house, followed by a glass of milk and some warm, home-baked cookies. This was always going to be a cross country road trip to visit that drunken college friend you’ve been meaning to visit for 15 years.
And this, my friends, brings us back to the onset of this analysis. We don’t ever need Gorman to stop striking out. Even with the 31.7 K% at High-A in 2019, the young third baseman sits at No. 38 on MLB Pipeline’s top 100 prospects list and No. 54 on Baseball America’s list, so the overall consensus remains bullish. What we do need, however, is to see that Gorman is capable of a strikeout rate below 30%, something hovering closer to 25%, above but not much more than 5% higher than the 22.2% strikeout rate he experienced in Rookie ball. If he can do that, and continue to improve his contact rates and ability to draw walks over time as he progresses up to and through the upper Minors, he will be a highly productive Major League hitter and one capable of sitting in the heart of competitive lineups. There are 35+ homers per year in this bat, and even with his contact struggles in the Minors, he has produced an above average wRC+ at every stop with the exception of the 25-game cameo at Single-A in 2018: 183 wRC+ (2018 ROK), 97 (2018 Single-A), 128 (2019 Single-A), 117 (2019 High-A).
And because we all love the long ball, here’s Gorman going deep for the second consecutive Spring Training last March.
In closing, I don’t dock Gorman for the Cardinals’ recent acquisition of Nolan Arenado. If you’ve paid attention to this security check, Gorman clearly isn’t going to be an MLB-ready, finished product at any point in 2021, and by 2022, we WILL have the universal DH. That’s coming from an NL purist; someone whose mother raised him on the sanctity of National League baseball. Not only will that ensure there’s room for Gorman, Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt at the infield corners, but Gorman is also expected to see time at outfield and second base this year. While I don’t particularly love the idea, rumors out of St. Louis alternate training site was that Gorman has made substantial strides with the glove — so we’ll see where it goes.
More importantly than seeing where the glove plays, though, is seeing how Gorman bounces back from his ugly 31.7 K%, 5.7 BB% and .732 OPS at High-A — assuming he is reassigned there this spring. It is my expectation that we will see a 5% drop in strikeout rate or more from Gorman if so, with a full season of play paving the way for Gorman’s return to prospect glory. For that reason, Gorman remains a heavy target of mine in dynasty formats, and I suggest those who have shares hold onto him for the long haul: Pack. If you read my work regularly, you likely saw my final recommendation coming, as I selected Gorman in the 16th round of the 12 Team, H2H Points Dynasty Startup Mock I did over on CBS last week. Like Gorman, I’m willing to swing for the fences, and I need more than than 188 games — 188 Menippe, if you will — to be out on Gorman’s enormous ceiling. 188 many pee pee. As my good friend (whom I’ve never met) Grey would say: that’s a whole lotta dong.
As always, I’m happy to take this conversation into the comments section or on Twitter, where you can find me @WorldOfHobbs.