A former Friday starter for the University of Central Florida, Colton Gordon was immediately intriguing when the Astros made him their 8th round pick in the 2021 draft. He was only a few months removed from Tommy John surgery at that time and his meandering path through college ball, which included two transfers, limited his amateur workload further, but the short track record he was able to compile as a collegiate offered plenty of intrigue. Gordon was successful in the classic raw run prevention sense, and only looked more impressive when peeking under the hood.
A low arm slot lefty, the surface level appearance of Gordon’s game is that of a reliever type with platoon splits, but the reality is quite different. While he’s able to spin a solid breaking ball and miss some bats, it’s his unique weak contact abilities that separate him from the pack. Despite the lower slot, Gordon is able to generate unique rising action, or at least the illusion thereof, on his heater, which has made it exceptionally difficult for hitters to square up to date despite its mediocre average velocity around 90 MPH. This primarily manifests as a very high infield fly rate- he was borderline elite in this department for UCF, as evidenced by his FaBIO figures from 2021:
2021 #MLBDraft FaBIO Profiles: 8-238 (HOU) Colton Gordon, Central Florida— Matt Collier (@reillocity) July 12, 2021
Presenting the #22 D1 SP by OVERALL Rating among qualifiers. pic.twitter.com/EQOaUOmREo
A strikeout-and-IFFB heavy results mix is more or less ideal- there’s more than one way to skin a cat, but these are the two most desirable outcomes a pitcher can create in the vast majority of scenarios- and Gordon ranked near the top of the table in both areas, 93rd and 85th percentiles respectively. We can also see above that despite the laterality in his mechanics, he had more or less equal effectiveness against righties and lefties. Add in his big 6’4” frame and above average strike throwing ability, and you have a laundry list of starter traits. The sample from his draft year was small, and that’s probably the only reason he was still on the board when the Astros popped him.
There was plenty to look forward to in Gordon’s pro debut, but it wouldn’t come until mid-June, about 13 months after his surgery. Since then, the lefty has done all in his power to make it worth the wait. After a dominant tuneup in the complex league, Gordon put up some very impressive film and even more impressive data in a 20 and 1⁄3 inning stint with Low-A Fayetteville, striking out 27 batters against just 3 walks en route to a 2.21 ERA. Better yet, Gordon’s sublime batted ball profile from college translated nearly 1:1 to pro ball - his IFFB% of 33.3% ranks towards the top of the league leaderboard, and few who have matched it package theirs with supporting characteristics as strong as Gordon’s. Out of all Carolina League pitchers with at least 20 IP this year and an IFFB% of 30% or greater, his swinging strike rate of 16.2% ranks 10th, four of the pitchers ahead of him are pure relievers, and none of the nine have produced as many ground balls (51.2%) as Gordon.
Colton Gordon (@ColtonZimGordon) with another strong outing for the Woodpeckers:— Astros Future (@AstrosFuture) August 20, 2022
4 IP | 1 H | 1 R | 0 BB | 6 K
He now has a 2.21 ERA with 3 BB/27 K in 20.1 innings in Single-A! #Astros pic.twitter.com/YeaERgOFE5
The results were so impressive that he earned another quick promotion to High-A Asheville, making his first start there on August 25th. Outside of a home run allowed, Gordon continued his dominance, fanning 9 in his 5 frames while allowing just four baserunners (two hits, two walks). His arsenal isn’t one that immediately stands out as high octane, particularly when it comes to velocity, but the effectiveness is impossible to argue with at this point. It remains to be seen whether or not his unicorn fastball will have similar effectiveness further up the ladder, but the early returns have been fantastic, and his stuff could tick up further from here as his Tommy John continues to fade further into the rearview. Not too shabby for an eighth round pick who signed for under slot.