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Cardinals Nolan Gorman looks to shift into ‘compete mode’ after ending year in minors

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Cardinals 5, Rockies 1

Cardinals infielder Nolan Gorman doubles on Wednesday, Aug. 17, 2022, to score Lars Nootbaar in the seventh inning of a game against the Rockies at Busch Stadium.

The words of advice passed along to Nolan Gorman by one of his teammates are believed to have originated from Juan Yepez. 

The message, one coming from a fellow rookie, has the purpose of helping a first-year player through the transition of going from minor-league baseball to the majors.

It’s a statement that can easily be said and, in Gorman’s mind, possible to put into action.

“I think Yepez said this one time. It's like, ‘If you can get over who you're playing against and all the fans you're playing in front of, it just comes down to competing,’” Gorman said during an interview in Memphis, Tennessee. “I've got that competitive person in me that wants to beat the best and be one of the best. So I don't think it's necessarily harder to do than to say.”

Competitive. That was the operative word reiterated by the 22-year-old Gorman as he sat in Class AAA Memphis’ home dugout at AutoZone Park. It was with Memphis who Gorman finished the minor-league season with after struggles at the plate in September for the Cardinals led to the rookie’s return to the minors on Sept. 19.

The “competitive person” Gorman hopes to embody was evident before his introduction to the big leagues. Coming into the year regarded by some as the Cardinals’ top prospect, Gorman produced a .308 average, 15 homers, and a 1.044 OPS in 34 minor-league games to begin the year in Class AAA. 

He made his MLB debut on May 20 and brought some of that production with him as the 22-year-old batted .361, homered three times, and drove in 10 runs in his first 11 MLB games. 

Then struggles overcame the left-handed swinging second baseman. Gorman posted a .207 average in 247 at-bats in 78 games from June 4 to Sept. 18. He struck out 91 times in that span.

A combination of Gorman’s struggles against fastballs — a pitch type he batted .194 against and struck out a total of 54 times against this year, per statcast —  along with Albert Pujols’ pursuit of 700 home runs led to less playing time for the rookie and his subsequent option to Memphis.

It was a decision he understood and saw the benefit of.

“It's tough to be able to compete when you don't get consistent at-bats, but it's also something that you got to learn to be able to do because (there are) situations up in the big leagues that are out of your control,” he said.

The timing of it was less than ideal.

“Obviously I want to be out there with the team helping them win in September going into the playoffs, but you know, it is what it is,” Gorman said on Sept. 24. “I got to come down here. I got to get my at-bats, and you know, hopefully, something happens where I go up there and can continue it.”

Heading back to the minors gave Gorman the opportunity to work through the mechanics of his swing along with his mental approach in the box. 

Mechanically, Gorman talked adjustments over with the likes of the Memphis coaching staff and teammate Cory Spangenberg, a former big-leaguer with 420 MLB games under his belt. Gorman focused on getting himself in a better landing position with his stride to ensure his hands don’t drop too much below the ball. 

When it came to his approach as soon as an at-bat started, the 22-year-old wanted to focus less on the science of his swing.

“You can't do that,” Gorman said. “You have no chance of being successful that way. Just getting out of that mode and back into compete mode is the biggest thing.”

That was an aspect of hitting he felt he had to adapt to the most while being in the majors. 

“You got to go out there and compete more,” Gorman said. “Pitchers up there are a lot better at commanding stuff and they got better stuff up there. I think it’s just really taking out anything you were practicing before and just going into the game competing. You can't be thinking in the box about your mechanics. And that's especially shown up there.”

Finding that balance of focusing on mechanics and the game itself is one that Gorman used in his final opportunities of the minor-league season. He became selective with his pitches, but the struggles at the plate he had with St. Louis followed Gorman to Memphis. 

Gorman went hitless in his first 13 at-bats back in the minors and struck out nine times. It took him until at-bat No. 14 to pull a line drive into right field for a single. 

On that same night of his first single back, the 22-year-old doubled off the left field wall. He added a 435-foot solo homer the next day. They were moments he felt like could add up, but that was prior to going three-for-19 in Memphis’ last four games of the season.

“It's good to see some balls fall,” Gorman said pregame before homering on Sept. 24. “It’s just the work that I've been putting in translating to the game, which is the biggest thing.”

The end of the 2022 season is one that Gorman said will eventually bring a time of reflection and reevaluation for what he needs to do to be ready for spring training in 2023. But as Memphis’ season neared its, he expressed hope that he’d have a chance to make an impact this October. 

“Obviously, coming down here to get as many at-bats as I can to be able to start to get going,” Gorman said of his mindset being back in the minors. “And hopefully, at some point, get back up there and help the team win and try to go far in the postseason whatever that looks like.”

Daniel Guerrero

@TheDanielGuerrero on Twitter

dguerrerro@post-dispatch.com

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