Minnesota Twins: Nick Gordon’s emergence means the end of La Tortuga

Minnesota Twins left fielder Nick Gordon celebrates after hitting a three run home run during the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Target Field. (Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports)
Minnesota Twins left fielder Nick Gordon celebrates after hitting a three run home run during the fifth inning against the Toronto Blue Jays at Target Field. (Jordan Johnson-USA TODAY Sports) /

After spending over five seasons in the minor leagues, Nick Gordon has finally made it to the big leagues for the Minnesota Twins and with 65 games already in the books, it looks more and more like he’s going to be a key piece of the 2022 team.

Gordon was drafted 5th overall all the way back in 2014, and the more time he spent in the minors, the clearer and clearer it became that he would never really be an everyday starter at either of his two main positions (second base and shortstop). Luis Arraez’s emergence as a prospect made that even more clear.

He could hit for a decent average, but he wasn’t consistently hitting to where he was expected to pre-draft. The little power potential he had disappeared, his glove disappointed, and his speed was nowhere near his brother’s. It looked like he would be a major bust. This season has put a pause on that.

Nick Gordon has been very solid in his first big league experience in 2021. He’s slashing .263/.317/.394 and has 14 extra-base hits (4 HR) in 65 games. Not only is he batting well, but he’s the absolute best clutch hitter on the team. To top it off, Gordon has played six different positions for the Twins this year, showing off his versatility.

Nick Gordon will make the Minnesota Twins roster in 2022, likely at the expense of Willians Astudillo.

He’s been incredible in September as well, as he’s finally gotten used to being in the big leagues. Here’s his statline since September 1st:

  • 16 G, .362/.412/.638, 5 R, 7 XBH (3 HR), 13 RBI, 5 SB 3-12 BB-K

No Twins player has had a better month, and he has locked down his spot on the roster for 2022. He probably isn’t an everyday starter, but he and Luis Arraez are an excellent duo that can eat up a majority of the utility innings the Twins will have in 2022.

His emergence creates a problem though. The Twins like to bring either 13-15 hitters on their Opening Day Roster. Before any trades or free agent signings, the Twins have 10 of those spots filled for sure (Mitch Garver, Ryan Jeffers, Miguel Sano, Alex Kirilloff, Jorge Polanco, Josh Donaldson, Nick Gordon, Luis Arraez, Byron Buxton, Max Kepler).

Expect the Twins to add a shortstop to replace Andrelton Simmons, moving the roster to 11. Throw in a left fielder (Trevor Larnach makes the most sense) and a backup outfielder (Jake Cave or Brent Rooker) puts you at 13. Jose Miranda (the Twins can’t hold him down forever) likely gets you to 14. This is before any trades or signings (excluding at shortstop).

Where does this leave the Twins current backups? Rob Refsnyder and Kyle Garlick are likely done in Minnesota. I’d expect one of Jake Cave or Brent Rooker (whichever one looks worse) to get sent to Triple-AAA until injuries occur. This leaves Willians Astudillo.

Astudillo is in the middle of his worst season as a pro. He’s consistently performed worse at the plate in every consecutive season he’s played for the Twins, slashing just .240/.264/.385 and a .649 OPS. That’s awful. Astudillo apologists used to point out his defensive versatility as an excuse for him being on the roster. That claim is out the window too.

The 29-year-old has played just 65 of his 451 innings (14% of his innings) at a position other than first base or third base. The Twins have rightfully realized he can’t really catch. With Kirilloff and Sano at first and Donaldson, Miranda, and Arraez at third next year, he won’t ever see the field if the team is healthy.

Even if Donaldson and Garver end up traded this offseason, that opens up a path for Miranda and Arraez to get more innings at third and Jeffers and Rortvedt at catcher. The Twins are actively looking to get their young players more playing time. Nick Gordon fits that as an almost 26-year-old utility man. Astudillo doesn’t as an almost 30-year-old backup corner infielder.

For Twins fans who have seen Astudillo as a drain on the Twins roster, this is what we’ve been waiting for. For Twins fans who like watching La Tortuga run, it’s a bit sad. Either way, Nick Gordon has made this move a necessity for the Minnesota Twins.

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