Why the Cardinals’ third baseman of the future may soon become their second baseman of the future

While the recent blockbuster trade that sent star third baseman Nolan Arenado from the Rockies to the Cardinals is mostly notable for its immediate impact, the deal also probably has longer-term effects in St. Louis. 

Yes, Arenado has opt-outs after the 2021 and 2022 seasons, but if his own words are any guide then it’s unlikely he’ll use them. The sensible expectation is that Arenado will be a Redbird for years to come. Insofar as Arenado’s sovereign province of third base goes, the Cardinals had some future plans there before all this went. We speak, of course, of power-hitting prospect Nolan Gorman

Gorman, 20, was the 19th overall pick out of a Phoenix high school in 2018, and he recently checked in at No. 18 on R.J. Anderson’s list of the top 50 prospects for 2021. Here’s what our man in the chopper wrote about Gorman: 

“Gorman’s profile can be summed up easily: boom or bust. He has loud, loud raw power and loud, loud swing-and-miss issues. In 2019, he punched out in roughly 30 percent of his plate appearances split between two levels, all the while posting an ISO north of .190. Gorman isn’t going to contribute a ton of value on the defensive side of things, meaning everything will boil down to whether he makes enough contact to be productive. His age and track record suggests he will, but it’s too early to say for certain.”

Obviously, Gorman’s path to the majors is now complicated by Arenado’s dominating presence on the roster. This, needless to say, was not lost on young Mr. Gorman. Not long after the Arenado swap went down, Gorman posted this to Instagram: “Does anyone know where Dustin Pedroia is and is he available for lessons on how to play second base?” 

This turned out to be more prescience than idle yuk-yukking. That’s because Gorman on Tuesday indeed got reps at second base during a simulated game. Here’s more on that from’s Zachary Silver

“That occurred on Tuesday, when the natural third baseman played second in a simulated game for the first time this spring, lining up alongside Arenado on the opposite side of the infield. Gorman got some of the first boxes checked off — he turned a double play started by Arenado, caught a popup in the dirt and played a handful of innings at what the club tried to create as close to full-speed game action as possible for starter Jack Flaherty.”

Obviously, the transition to what’s regarded as a more premium position won’t be easy for Gorman, who, as our Anderson noted above, wasn’t really a slick fielder in the first place. The throwing demands at second base will be lessened, obviously, but it’s a position that requires a bit more range. As well, there’s the “pivot man” job requirement. 

At the same time, Gorman as a third baseman would have a higher offensive bar than he will as a second baseman. Last season in MLB, third basemen combined to put up an OPS of .755, while second basemen checked in at .692. That’s how it tends to go every year. If Gorman can tap into his big left-handed power potential while also playing passable defense at the keystone, then he could be a highly valuable player for the Cardinals. That’s looking way ahead, but that process may have gotten underway at spring training this week. 

For 2021, Tommy Edman figures to be the primary at second base. Edman’s 25 with not quite two years of MLB service time, so he has a long-range future with the Cardinals. However, he’s not really an obstacle for Gorman. Edman has a somewhat uncertain offensive profile — certainly shy of what Gorman can achieve — and Edman’s defensive flexibility means he can best be deployed as a super utility sort. In keeping with all of that, the Cardinals may indeed be hoping that Gorman and his 30-homer potential are the future at the position.

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