When Colton Gordon walked into the Space Cowboys’ clubhouse three weeks ago, the last 12 months came full circle. Spending October and November in the Arizona Fall League, Gordon played under Sugar Land manager Mickey Storey. The two reunited earlier this month.
“What a great guy to play for. Just energy, excitement, trying to win ball games but also get better,” Gordon said. “Being able to have played for him before showing up to the Triple-A team was just another sort of comfort level. … It made an easier transition.”
Gordon is also a high-energy body. He directs his emotion toward the plate. Storey saw the game speed up on Gordon last fall, but less than a year later, Gordon is utilizing his energy and emotion to become a more poised pitcher.
“(Gordon) knows exactly what he has and what works,” Storey said. “He’s learning to utilize that and not just go off what the attack plan might say or what the catcher might put down. He knows what he wants to do. He’s coming in prepared, and he’s throwing the ball well.”
The Houston Astros drafted Gordon in the eighth round of the 2021 MLB Draft, knowing he would miss the remainder of the season recovering from Tommy John surgery. He returned to game action last summer, climbing to High-A Asheville by season’s end.
Through the process of recovery, he never shocked himself. Gordon dominated the Texas League two years after Tommy John surgery.
“Every week, every day just trying to get a little better,” Gordon said. “I think no matter who you are, if you can add days on top of days getting better, good things happen.”
Fresh off the World Baseball Classic, Gordon received an assignment this spring to Double-A Corpus Christi, a step above where he ended the 2022 season. Across April, he felt the growing pains of moving up a level. He posted a 6.75 ERA and a 1.62 WHIP in four starts, totaling 17.1 innings.
“To start the year, I just had some things that needed to get better, honestly, get back into the season, get some innings under my belt,” Gordon said. “As the year went on, I’ve gotten a little sharper and really learned some stuff about me to continue to just improve.”
Those improvements picked up in May. Gordon made 15 appearances over the next three months, striking out 93 batters while sporting a 2.48 ERA. The Astros named him Minor League Pitcher of the Month for July, following a 2.25 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 24 innings.
Execution of his pitches defined Gordon’s turnaround. He put his focus more into game planing, knowing how to take advantage of two-strike counts.
“When you can simplify a pitch and make some cues and adjustments to that and say, ‘Okay, I really want to look at this down,’ and then from there, have a feel for that, it makes it easier to repeat it,” Gordon said. “If it’s easy to repeat, then week in and week out, it’s easier to just have better and better results.”
Gordon has never relied on top velocity. He strikes out hitters with pin-point command and off-speed movement. The Astros added a cutter to his arsenal last season, tunneling it off his four-seam fastball at the top rail of the strike zone along with his sinker.
Gordon wants to turn his cutter into a weapon of choice rather than a project he’s been working on the last year. Instead of having a pitch break arm side, he is looking for cut action with high 80s velocity. Storey has seen Gordon’s cutter show different shapes, bleeding into his fastball and slider.
“It’s not something you have to beat to death,” Storey said. “You don’t have to use it a ton, but if you have it, there’s going to be a time where you can use it, and it can be a pitch to get off the barrel. That’s basically his focus right now, learning it, feeling for it, having some confidence in it and trying to execute in times it can be used.”
In his first Triple-A start Aug. 8, Gordon translated everything from Double-A effortlessly. He yielded three hits and issued a pair of walks in five scoreless innings. The lefty struck out three batters, showing promise for continued success.
His following two starts opened his eyes to the Pacific Coast League. Gordon combined for eight innings of nine-run baseball that included five home runs. He struggled getting ahead in counts, but turning to the fundamentals of his game plan and execution put himself back on track.
“Don’t get me wrong, the level of play here is definitely a different level than Double-A, so there’s a different level of everything,” Gordon said. “But if I can execute my game plan, do what I need to do, I feel confident I’ll be alright.”
Gordon enters the facility each day on a mission. He showed Storey he can bounce back from a rough start and own his mistakes. In a game of ups and downs, Gordon pitches with a short memory.
“He’s a guy who moves on. He’s not a guy who goes into the dugout and pouts. He’s not a guy who goes in and makes excuses,” Storey said. “Like a lot of guys I’ve had in the past, those are the ones who end up translating into big-league arms and having some success there.”
Gordon makes his fourth start for the Space Cowboys on Friday. Storey sees the lefty continuing to throw the ball well, even if the box score hasn’t reflected it.
“He’s filled the zone. He’s throwing a ton of strikes,” Storey said. “His stuff should translate well here.”