CLEVELAND — Their chairs, like their lockers and inevitably their careers, pressed close together on the far side of the clubhouse, the top two prospects in the Cardinals’ organization had plenty of time to catch up this All-Star weekend at Progressive Field. They spoke about approach, about mutual friends, and other “small talk,” they said.
At several points, Dylan Carlson, 20, turned to Nolan Gorman, 19, and offered, young player to youngest player, some sage advice about the unforgiving Florida State League.
The smaller statistics there could mean bigger things later.
“He told me, ‘Don’t worry about your numbers.’ Same as everyone says,” said Gorman, who the Cardinals promoted to the FSL and High-A Palm Beach for the second half of this season. “You’ve got to trust the process. If you don’t do that you might get swallowed up in this game. That league will do it to you. From what I’ve heard it’s ruined hitters. Numbers don’t mean much there. As long as you know you’re hitting the ball hard, that’s all that really matters. He learned that part of it in the Florida State League, and look where it took him.”
A strong showing last season in the FSL launched Carlson to major-league spring training, onto Class AA, and into Sunday’s Futures Game as one of the leading hitters in the Texas League. Gorman and Carlson, the Cardinals’ Nos. 1 and 2 prospects, respectively, represented the organization in the annual showcase of the game’s top minor-league talents.
Carlson started in right field for the National League and singled home one of the team’s two runs in a 2-2 tie with the American League. The contest, the first Futures Game pitting AL against NL and not World vs. Team USA, was scheduled for seven innings and by rule only one extra frame was played. Thus the tie.
Gorman, a mid-game replacement at third base, fouled off a series of pitches in his lone at-bat before taking a called strike 3. Devin Williams, a Hazelwood West grad and Brewers prospect, retired the only batter he faced.
For the first time in recent memory the Cardinals’ top two prospects are high-upside hitters — Gorman’s for the SLG, Carlson for the OPS — and both have been challenged by an assignment to the club’s affiliate in Jupiter, Fla. The league that forged Carlson as a prospect and now tests Gorman, used to be one the Cardinals’ rising hitters skipped.
“You’re not always going to get the results that you want in that league, so (a coach) made it real clear that if I was going about the process the right way then things like where I’m standing right now could happen,” Carlson said as one of 50 top prospects selected for Sunday’s event. “You’ve got to trust yourself instead of looking at the results or looking at the scoreboard and letting that wear on you.”
Past Futures Games reps from the Cardinals, such as Kolten Wong and the late Oscar Taveras, went straight from Low-A to Class AA, as did Matt Adams and former first-round pick and 2009 Futures Game player Brett Wallace. That foursome never had plate appearances in the FSL. Stephen Piscotty and Matt Carpenter had around 60 games each at the level that plants young players in spring-training ballparks with overheated conditions.
The leading slugging percentage for the Cardinals’ High-A affiliate this season is .389, and at Roger Dean Stadium, which hosts two High-A teams, only one regular has a slugging percentage better than .400.
That crucible revealed Carlson.
The switch-hitter from California batted .247/.345/.386 in 99 games for the PB-Cards last year, and internal reviews of his season raved about his production and the hint of power ahead with 31 extra-base hits. He showed a hitter’s savvy. In the Futures Game, a lefty reliever he never had seen and did not know came in to face Carlson with the bases loaded. After taking a changeup for a ball, he deduced a fastball would be next. He lined an RBI single.
Nick Madrigal, a White Sox prospect who started at second for the AL on Sunday, shared an infield with Carlson at Elk Grove (Calif.) High and saw Carlson arrive this weekend with a full beard.
“He looks older, but he says he likes that,” Madrigal said. “He’s bigger, stronger and you could always see in that swing he has the power was there, and now it’s starting to show on a consistent basis.”
For Class AA Springfield, Carlson is in the top 10 in every significant offensive category, leading the league in runs (58), second in homers (13), and fifth in slugging (.510) and OPS (.876). Gorman pointed to those numbers as an indication of what success looks like.
Survive High-A. Thrive in Class AA.
“Guys say .250 is a good year there,” Gorman said. “Do what you have to get to the next level.”
Gorman was deep into a slump at High-A when he got the promotion to Palm Beach, and in his first 13 games there he’s hit .224/.283/.347. He has 11 homers total this season, his first full summer as a pro, and also 95 strikeouts in his 290 at-bats. He’s had hits robbed by the defensive shifts that increasingly greet him, and he’s dropped a few bunts to dissuade them.
A focus he said has been going the other with pitches because “I know the pull side is always there,” he said. That will free up more of the field for him, give him a wide spectrum of power, and take advantage of the wide-open spaces in the Florida State League.
HOME RUN CHAMP
Gorman’s first brush with All-Star weekend came in 2017, as a high schooler, when he went to Miami and won the High School Home Run Derby. He described Sunday what it was like walking by Bryce Harper and Jose Altuve at the ballpark, and what it meant to watch last summer as first-year pros appeared in the Futures Game. He set that as a goal.
Having reached it, he wanted to watch his peers and, as Carlson said, “pick some brains.” He started with future teammate Carlson, who later described Gorman’s questions as curious and clearly coming from “an intelligent hitter, honestly.”
That should fit in the FSL.
The league that forces a young player to learn there is a difference between how he’s hitting and what he’s hitting.
“It kind of goes downhill when you start chasing results,” Gorman said. “The process is the biggest thing. You have to trust it. I wouldn’t say (the Florida State League) is humbling. You know when you hit the ball well. So, to me, it’s a place where you learn how to hit. And that’s what I’m doing there — learning how to hit and be consistent. In my perspective, a league like that is a good place to learn how to increase the hit tool, to learn what it takes.”