FORT MYERS, Fla. – Nick Gordon was lining up for infield drills in the hot sun Thursday when his face lit up with shock and delight. The Marlins’ team bus had just arrived, and the team’s All-Star second baseman had immediately jogged over to the minor league complex for a quick reunion with his little brother.
“Just letting him know that I’m excited for him,” said Dee Gordon, the fourth-year major leaguer who was traded by the Dodgers to Miami in December. “He’s been waiting for this day.”
Yes, Thursday was the first day of workouts for the Twins’ minor leaguers, and Nick Gordon’s first day of spring training as a professional. The 19-year-old shortstop, drafted by Minnesota with the fifth overall pick last June, joined more than 100 players in fielding, hitting and baserunning drills, most of it with an All-Star audience: Gordon’s big brother, who stuck around for five minutes to enjoy the moment, and his father, three-time All-Star pitcher Tom “Flash” Gordon.
“This has been Nicholas’ dream come true, and he’s worked really hard for it,” Tom Gordon said. “He’s excited. And we’re hoping someday soon he can really start to showcase the talents he has.”
That was the plan all winter, and the Twins’ top infield prospect impressed his family with the disciplined way he rose by 6:30 every morning, made sure to eat breakfast, did plenty of fitness work, and always showed up on time for regular sessions with a fielding and hitting tutor his father had arranged for him. Sensing that even his own 21 years of major league experience, all of it as a pitcher, wasn’t a perfect fit for his son’s skills, Gordon enlisted the help of a ballplayer who he’s known for more than a decade. Wait, what was the teacher’s name again?
“Barry,” Gordon said matter-of-factly. “Barry Larkin.”
Yeah, a first-ballot Hall of Famer probably knows a thing or two about turning the double play and spraying hits all over the diamond.
“You can’t get any better than that,” Nick Gordon said. “He taught me some great stuff, some things he learned during his career.”
The Twins can only hope that Gordon’s career remotely resembles even a portion of Larkin’s, and Dee Gordon, for one, believes it’s not an outlandish notion at all.
“Nicholas has been good since he was 3. To watch him get better and better the way he is, is pretty amazing,” Dee said. “He’s learning so much, you can tell. He’s facing older guys, not high school pitching, and he’s handling it pretty well.”
He batted .294 in 57 games for rookie-level Elizabethton last season, not bad for putting on the uniform less than a month after graduating from high school. He collected 11 extra-base hits including four triples, and stole 11 bases in 18 attempts. But he broke his left index finger just before the playoffs started, a disappointing end to the season.
“He had a good experience, a good start,” Dee Gordon said. “But probably not up to his standards.”
No, because the Twins’ top-rated middle-infield prospect wants to follow his family’s path. He’s put on 12 pounds since last season, and has about 194 pounds on his 6-foot frame now.
“I had to stay on him a little bit to eat. His metabolism, he’s always got to be doing something, so he has trouble putting on weight,” Tom Gordon said. “And hitting, I’ve seen him transform his ability. He’s learning to stay away, away, away, and then when he wants to pull the ball, he can. He can turn on a fastball.”
So could his Hall of Fame teacher. Now the Twins hope to see a lot of that ability this year, probably at Class A Cedar Rapids. They’re getting a player who has begun maturing and evolving the way Byron Buxton did two years ahead of him.
“I’m feeling stronger. I feel a lot better than I was last year,” Nick Gordon said. “I’m more confident. [Working with Larkin] definitely helped.”