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BenFred: Press to impress has Cardinals star prospect Gorman feeling weight of opportunity

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St. Louis Cardinals beat Washington Nationals 7-3

St. Louis Cardinals Nolan Gorman singles in the first inning of an exhibition game between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Washington Nationals on Monday, March 21, 2022, at Ballpark of the Palm Beaches in West Palm Beach, Fla. Photo by Laurie Skrivan,

JUPITER, Fla. — Before Friday afternoon’s Grapefruit League exhibition game between the Cardinals and Nationals, Cards manager Oliver Marmol described what he has been observing during star prospect Nolan Gorman’s spring at-bats.

“More so pressing than anything, which is common,” Marmol said about the day’s No. 9 hitter.

The national anthem was performed. The Cardinals took the field. The game began, and in the bottom of the second inning with two outs and the Cardinals leading by two, Gorman stepped into the batter’s box.

Facing Nationals top pitching prospect Cade Cavalli, Gorman watched an 87 mph slider for ball one, low and inside. He watched a 96 mph fastball for ball two, in the middle of the plate, but also low. He watched an 89 mph changeup, low again, for ball three. Cavalli came back with a 96 mph fastball just at or perhaps even a bit beneath the bottom of the zone and Gorman, tired of waiting, tried to unload on it. He sent the ball bouncing into the second baseman’s glove to end the inning.

From the press box, it looked like more pressing. And later, the 21-year-old rising star Cardinals fans can’t wait to see in St. Louis acknowledged he could have found out if that fourth pitch would have produced a walk. But then Gorman shared another observation from that at-bat. When this camp started, he probably would not have been up 3-0 in the first place. He probably would have swung at a ball before that happened.

“Today was a lot better,” Gorman said after the Cardinals beat the Nationals 5-4. “I’ve been trying to do too much. You can’t make the club in one swing.”

Multiple times in this camp, Marmol has talked about wanting to see young players encounter some adversity, so he can see what happens next. Gorman’s found some. The Cardinals’ highest-ranked position-playing prospect closest to a major-league debut went hitless again Friday. He is now two-for-16 with no walks and seven strikeouts, and hit-less in his last three games.

“It’s natural,” Marmol said about Gorman’s pressing. “I think it’s good for him. It’s going to be something that he will 100% work through and be just fine. This, for him, probably doesn’t seem timely, as to what he would like this spring to look like, and where we are today, but I’m zero percent concerned about Gorman being really good for us. This is good for him to go through this experience and figure out how to plow through it. It won’t be the last time.”

For those sweating box scores back home, take some comfort in this story.

Before Gorman was mashing at Class AAA Memphis last season, he went through a similar stretch immediately after he was promoted there from Class AA Springfield. He went four for 39 with 13 strikeouts, two walks and no extra-base hits between his June 29 promotion and July 13. Then, on July 14, he went three for four with a home run, and never looked back.

Between July 14 and the end of the Redbirds’ season, Gorman in 264 Class AAA at-bats averaged .299 with a .345 on-base percentage and a .519 slugging percentage. He smacked 14 home runs and 14 doubles, worked 18 walks, totaled 46 RBIs and had 29 more hits (79) than strikeouts (50). In a span of 66 games.

“It’s the same thing here, the same thing that is going on right now,” Gorman said, comparing his Class AAA pause point to this spring. “Just trying to do too much, too fast. I just have to take a step back, relax, see the whole field, know what I’m capable of doing, and go out and do it. Have fun with it. It’s good to learn that at a young age and be able to work on it.”

That’s the big picture. The smaller one includes technical timing tweaks Gorman has been working on with the team’s hitting coaches. He’s a tick late at the plate.

“That’s where a lot of the swing and miss and whatnot is coming from, and the fouling pitches off,” he said. “It’s getting better. Today felt like a really good day, even though the results weren’t great. I was taking a lot of pitches I would have swung at early on.”

I’m not planning on seeing Gorman on the Cardinals’ opening-day roster, and that’s OK.

The Cardinals have a defending Gold Glove winner at second base in Tommy Edman, and the combination of Corey Dickerson, Lars Nootbaar and perhaps Brendan Donovan (or newly added utilityman Cory Spangenberg) can take the first crack at the lefthanded side of a hopeful carousel approach the Cardinals have planned for the designated hitter role.

If the DH-by-committee plan doesn’t work, it is not Gorman’s fault. If he was knocking the cover off the ball, there would be good reason to champion an opening-day debut and dig deeper into if he’s ready to roll for a defense-first team at second base. But he’s not. Hollering for him to break camp with the big club ignores obvious evidence. This was a spring training Gorman needed to crush in order to force the issue. He hasn’t.

At least not yet.

Could things change? Yes. Gorman can get hot, fast. He is going to get a whole bunch of at-bats down this camp’s stretch. On Sunday, Marmol will have the chance to put him in a lineup during a trip to Port St. Lucie that will face both Max Scherzer and Jacob deGrom. What a test that will be for every Cardinals hitter, not just the young ones.

If Gorman can make a remarkable surge late, that would be one heck of a story. If he doesn’t? Well, there’s a pretty good chance having to get some more Memphis seasoning would not even wind up being a footnote in his future major-league story. People forget guys such as Tyler O’Neill, Dylan Carlson and Jack Flaherty were not on the opening-day rosters of their debut seasons.

Gorman is so close. His locker is on the minor-league side of the Roger Dean Stadium clubhouse, but he’s starting games with the regulars. When the regulars check out of the games, he stays in and plays with the prospects. Wanting something too much is a very real thing. He’s going through it, and his future manager appreciates his candor.

“That’s real, no doubt,” Marmol said. “And someone who tells you differently is lying. You have that extra layer of wanting to prove something the closer you get. It’s part of the emotional I.Q. that you need to not only get to the big leagues, but stay there for a long time and sustain success. For me, this is a great point in his career. He’ll be just fine.”

Marmol repeated that last line, for emphasis.

“He’ll be just fine.”


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