Thursday, March 20, 2008

Position Analysis: Center Field

Likely Starter: Carlos Gomez
2007 Stats: .232/.288/.304, 2 HR, 12 RBI


Gomez's game is raw and ripe with flaws, but he may get to work on them in the bigs.

Potential Backups: Jason Pridie, Craig Monroe, Denard Span

With Torii Hunter out of the picture, the Twins hoped to figure out a steady answer in center field by the start of the 2008 season. Despite trading for two center field prospects during the offseason, the Twins don't appear particularly close to figuring things out.

Showing improvement after a rough start this spring, Carlos Gomez appears to be the front-runner in the battle to start in center on Opening Day. A 22-year-old who came over as the sole position player in the Johan Santana trade, Gomez had been rushed through the Mets system and appeared in 58 games for the Mets last year, appearing in mostly the corner outfield spots. Gomez struggled and posted a paltry .592 OPS while striking out in nearly 20 percent of his at-bats, but he was only 21 years old and did miss a sizable chunk of the season with a broken hand.

Widely viewed as one of the league's fastest players, Gomez is a toolsy defender and a legitimate threat on the basepaths when gets aboard. He also projects to hit for power with his big 6-for-4 frame. The problem with Gomez is that he's basically all projection at this point; he hasn't hit particularly well in the minors (which is understandable since he's been rushed and hasn't been given much time to adjust at any level) and doesn't appear truly ready to be starting in the big leagues. Yet, the Twins are likely to eager to showcase some of the talent they got back in the Santana trade, and Gomez might be the best option considering the alternatives.

Jason Pridie, who had a breakout year in Tampa Bay's system last year that included a .914 OPS over 63 games at Triple-A, is more polished than Gomez and might be a better option for the center field spot in the short-term. However, Ron Gardenhire has made clear that he views Pridie as a backup and role player, and the battle for the starting job seems to be between Gomez and Denard Span at this point.

Span has had the best spring of the three, but is a significantly inferior prospect to either Gomez or Pridie. A first-round pick in 2002, Span has moved through the Twins' system at a reasonable pace despite a failure to produce anywhere, and his lack of legitimate plate discipline or any power whatsoever make him a marginal roster candidate. He possesses some of the same tools as Gomez -- namely, defense and speed -- but Gomez is the better player and has a much brighter future. It has become fairly clear that Span doesn't have much of a future as a major-league player, whereas Gomez is a top prospect with the tools to blossom into a star. Whether the former Met will realize that potential remains to be seen, but it would certainly be more entertaining for Twins fans to watch him grow and adjust this year than to watch Span try and beat out weak grounders.

Predicted 2008 Hitting Line for Gomez: .265/.315/.390, 10 HR, 55 RBI

12 comments:

Jesse said...

If Gomez does hit like you predict, which is entirely within the realms of reality, I hope Gardenhire puts him at the bottom of the lineup. Doubtful, but I can hope.

Anonymous said...

I'd rather see Span on the opening day roster if it means that Gomez has a month or two in AAA to develop a little bit more. He'll be that much better given the time to work on his game in Rochester and it will save the Twins MLB service time.

allen said...

I agree. Let's not rush him -- It's a rebuilding year.

Anonymous said...

Why not rush him (Gomez) if its a rebuilding year? I don't think this is a rebuilding year to start the season, although it may well turn into that by mid-summer. Span is the guy to start the year because he appears ready for the major leagues.

Josh said...

It makes more sense to start Gomez at AAA. Let him play every day and develop a consistant approach at the plate with pitching that should still be enough to challenge him, but not overwhelm him. And do it without tolling his service time in the majors.

I'm actually leaning towards Span at this point, but I may be getting fooled by his OB% this spring. If he has a real leadoff hitter mentality and controls the strike zone effectively, he could fill the leadoff spot well.

I just don't want Gomez to get it by default because he's the prize of the Santana trade.

Anonymous said...

Twins geek did a good article on this... showing that maybe his OBP this spring isn't a fluke. But maybe it is. Either way, I say give him a shot to realize his potential as a below average centerfielder, and let Gomez play in AAA for a while.

http://www.twinsgeek.blogspot.com/

sploorp said...

The popular consensus on Gomez is to send him to AAA for more seasoning. I think this is just a knee jerk reaction and a lot of parroting of a popular opinion. Not necessarily on this site, but it's the general impression I get from a lot of the comments I read. A lot of fans regurgitating the same info over and over until it becomes accepted as fact.

I'm a Twins fan living in Los Angeles. Out here everybody seems to be from somewhere else and supports their home teams. I have a few friends who are Mets fans. One in particular is pretty hard core. He travels to spring training for a little while just about every year and makes travel plans back home based on the Mets home schedule. He even catches a few minor league games when he can and follows their farm system religiously. I haven't talked with him in quite a while (Los Angeles can be like that, plus he recently became a dad). Anyway, the whole point of this is that I've been hearing about the merits, trials, tribulations and potential of Gomez for a couple of years now. I haven't seen him play live yet (though I usually get dragged off to a Mets game or two every year), but I did see him play a number of times on TV at my friend's house and I've certainly been watching him very closely this spring via a subscription to MLB.com. While most of what my friend went on and on about regrettably went in one ear and out the other (as in "oh, not Gomez again"), a few things did manage to sink in and leave me with a lasting impression.

While it's true that Gomez was rushed through the Mets system, he wasn't rushed without merit. At each level he has played (up to and including the majors), he has not merely floundered, but flat out stunk the place up. But at each level he has also made adjustments, improved, and really turned it on before the end of the season. Mix the stunk the place up months with the amazing turn it on months and the end result are season stats that look promising, but not overly spectacular at first glance. It's easy to understand why so many people jump to the conclusion that he is in need of more seasoning. His first week or so of ST also hasn't helped his cause.

Add in the amazing things he can do with his speed (and I think we've all seen that already this spring, so I won't elaborate) and it becomes easier to see why he moved up so quickly. It's also easy to see why Gardy is so high on the kid and easier to see why they went for the trade with the Mets - if, in fact, a trade with the Sox or Skanks was ever really on the table.

Last year at the major league level, in the last month before he broke his hand, he was hitting .310 and stealing bases at will. While it's true that is only one month, it is also one month more of producing at the major league level than Span.

Lets face it, the Twins aren't merely looking for a center fielder, they want/need a table setter. The popular consensus is that a lead off hitter hit for average and draw a lot of walks. That consensus is based on the theory that the guy with the highest OPS will naturally score the most runs. It's also true that, thus far this spring, Span's stats at first seem more lead off like.

Consider this, a week ago Gomez was hitting something like .135, but leading the team in runs scored. Not just Span and Pridie, but the entire team. That is just pure speed and aggressive base running. Oh, and believe it or not, Gomez also had one more base hit then Span at that point too (Span doesn't have as many at bats).

And now Gomez has started hitting and hitting consistently. Granted it's only been a week, but from what I've seen and heard, the last week is much closer to what you can expect from the kid then the first was.

Give the kid the job already and bat him lead off. He's got nothing left to learn at AAA that he can't learn in the show. As far as sending him down to try and save a few bucks by putting off arbitration another year, that is just silly and ultimately not fiscally sound. The kid's going to be a fan favorite and a star. Not someday. Not soon. But now. This season. The Twins stand to make a lot more in increased revenue via ticket sales and merchandising off him then they will ever save by putting off arbitration another year. The sooner they bring him up, the more they stand to make.

Unlike some fans, I don't see this as a rebuilding year. The Twins might not win the division, but they aren't going to be pushovers either. They're going to have Detroit and Cleveland looking over their shoulders most of the season. A wild card shot isn't out of the question. And belive it or not Gomez is going to play a big part in that. He is going to score a lot of runs this year and I'd rather see him do it in the show then down at AAA.

Anonymous said...

Having personally watched around ten ST ballgames here in FM, Gomez is much better than Span in all facets of the game. Besides being very fun to watch. He beat out a routine two hopper to short last night by hauling a**, has a cannon for an arm and is 9 for 9 in stolen bases. If Span or anyone starts in CF over him, for any reason, it will be an outrage.

Anonymous said...

Gomez is much better than Span in all facets of the game.

That is obviously not true and makes the rest of your evaluation suspect. Gomez clearly has tools, the question is how well he has harnessed them.

The point that what's important is how he finishes spring training, not how he started, is a good one. There is a tendency for us to want to draw conclusions early before Gardy tells us his. But the next week is really more important to evaluating players than the first three weeks combined.

sploorp said...

My favorite game was the one last week where he went 0 for 3. In his first at bat, he hit into what looked like a routine double play. He ran out the relay and got on base. Then he stole 2nd, stole 3rd and was finally hit home on a sacrifice fly. Put just about anybody else in that situation and it would probably have been an easy double play and the Twins probably would have finished the inning without scoring. Instead, they start the game with a 1-0 lead and eventually won 4-1. That is just pure hustle. That is definitely the guy I want leading off everyday.

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