THOMA COLUMN | Flash: Nick Gordon can play after all

·3 min read

Sep. 5—Nick Gordon turned out to be a better baseball player than I expected.

That is, to be sure, a rather low bar. I had written him off as a serious prospect roughly four years after the Twins made him the fifth overall pick in the 2014 draft as a shortstop out of high school.

The son of 21-year major league pitcher Tom "Flash" Gordon and the brother of two-time All-Star infielder Dee Strange-Gordon, this Gordon was painfully skinny and lacking any particularly strong tool.

He displayed a penchant in the minors for strong first halves followed by second-half collapses, which suggested that he wore down physically over the course of the summer. And since minor league seasons at the time ended around Labor Day, that didn't bode well for the longer major league season.

I figured that between the blood line and the high draft pick investment, he would at least get a cup of coffee in the majors. But he didn't appear to be gifted enough in the field to stick at short, and he didn't project to hit enough to be a regular even at that position.

Ceiling: Utility infielder.

And while teams need that kind of player, that's not what teams are looking for with the fifth pick in the first round.

Gordon has proven to be something more than that, evidence that a player's career can take a different shape than originally expected.

He's still slender by major league standards (listed at 6 feet and 160 pounds), his command of his strike zone is not strong, and the Twins clearly are not all that impressed with him as a shortstop.

But he has the third-highest slugging percentage among the team's qualifiers, higher than that of Carlos Correa and Jorge Polanco, and he has "muscled" his way into the fifth slot in the batting order with some frequency of late.

Rocco Baldelli moves him around the field — he's started games at shortstop, second base, center field and left field — but most of his playing time has come in the outfield. (With Polanco now sidelined, Gordon came into Sunday's game having started six straight games at second base.)

And Baldelli's penchant for "load management" is probably a significant boost to Gordon, considering his history of second-half fades.

He hit better in August than in July, and he was better in July than in any of the first three months of the season. Indeed, each month has been better than the previous one.

I suspect that if everybody were healthy, Gordon would find his playing time as slender as his physique. But there are always injuries.

Polanco, Byron Buxton, Alex Kirilloff and Trevor Larnach are on the injured list, the Twins are chasing a division title — and Gordon is in the lineup on a daily basis.

How he fares in September may determine how the team fares.

Edward Thoma is at ethoma@mankatofreepress.com. Twitter: @bboutsider.