Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Ever-Growing Gomez

As a kid at the ballpark, I was always most fascinated by speedy players who could put the ball in play and fly down the first base line. I remember being very fond of Cristian Guzman in his early days, marveling his ability to beat out routine grounders to shortstop and fly around second base to turn a textbook double into an exhilarating triple.

As I've aged and learned more about the game of baseball, I've come to realize that players who are exciting and athletically gifted sometimes do not produce enough to actually be considered "good." Nevertheless, Carlos Gomez is a player that I've always gotten giddy about. From the moment his name began to pop up in Johan Santana trade rumors, I felt pings of excitement. Back in December when Mets GM Omar Minaya told the Associated Press that he felt he could be a player in the Santana Sweepstakes, I said that while most people would likely be skeptical of a Mets package that didn't include shortstop Jose Reyes, "I'm pretty high on outfield prospects Carlos Gomez and Fernando Martinez (especially Gomez)." In the comments section for that post, I mentioned that Twins fans "would love having [Gomez] here -- he's a lot of fun to watch."

As the offseason progressed, Gomez's inclusion in a package for Santana became more and more realistic. On Jan. 10, Joe Christensen of the Star Tribune wrote an article mentioning that the Mets had offered Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Philip Humber and Kevin Mulvey for Santana (a fine piece of reporting by Christensen to nail the exact package nearly three weeks in advance of the actual trade). In analyzing the proposed package, I had the following to say about Gomez:
I'm higher on Gomez than most and I like his chances to turn into a Jose Reyes type player. At 22, he's one of the fastest players in all of baseball, which makes him a very exciting player to watch, and I believe he'll build on his patience and power, both of which are fairly meager at this point. The lack of plate discipline is particularly alarming, as he'll never be able to put his blazing speed to good use unless he can get on base at a decent rate, but he is young and raw.
When Bill Smith pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Santana to the Mets for the aforementioned package, I was a bit underwhelmed with the overall return for baseball's best pitcher. Nevertheless, I was clearly glad to see Gomez's name included in the deal.

Through the first 37 games of the 2008 season, the experience of watching a 22-year-old Gomez start regularly has been everything I'd expected it to be: exciting, frustrating, humorous, torturous. He has struck out more than seven times as often as he's walked, his .299 on-base percentage is brutally inadequate for a lead-off hitter, and he's had some line drives eat him up in center field while also air-mailing numerous throws to the infield. Yet, at the same time, Gomez is tied with Justin Morneau for the team lead in extra-base hits, he is tied for the American League lead in stolen bases, and he's displayed terrific range in center field while making several Web Gem catches.

Since being benched for a day after striking out four times in an 0-for-5 effort against Oakland on April 22, Gomez has batted .333/.382/.529 with 12 runs scored and eight RBI in 12 games. The strikeout-to-walk ratio during that span (11-to-3) was still far from desirable, but Gomez has shown some improvement.

I've bristled in the past when people have suggested that Gomez should be sent down to the minors. In part that is because I feel there's no logical basis for that argument, but a part of it is also that I truly enjoy watching the kid play. Even beyond his exciting style of play, there are a lot of little things to like about Gomez, from his exaggerated throwing motion to his humorous accent; from his lighthearted cockiness to the way he grabs and steadies his helmet as he flies out of the batters box on a hit.

Gomez is a project, and he's certainly far from a finished product. But his tools are on display on a nightly basis, and watching him play is something I look forward whenever I sit down to watch a Twins game. Putting aside the poor on-base skills, the botched bunt attempts and the numerous fundamental mistakes, Gomez is a tremendously gifted athlete with a lot of upside, and watching him play brings me back to a time when the game seemed a whole lot more simple. And maybe a little more fun.

8 comments:

Andrew Kneeland said...

Great read, Nick, I mean Nostradamus.

Here is what ESPN projected of him for the 2008 season. (written in Feburary, 2008)

The 21-year-old speedster was the key prospect the Twins acquired for Johan Santana. With Torii Hunter having skipped town, the center-field job is wide open for Gomez, who some say is faster than Jose Reyes. He'll get his steals if he gets his at-bats (12 swipes in125 AB in his debut) but be weary; his on-base skills are still very raw and he'll be a batting-average -- and benching -- risk with no power.

Gomez has some pretty crazy stats. While his .268 average is nothing to praise, he is hitting .467 with two outs and runners in scoring positions. Take away the two outs, and he is hitting .417 with RISP. He is hitting an even .500 with the bases loaded.

The weird thing is that Gomez is only hitting .205 in innings higher than the seventh. Is he really as clutch as his situational batting averages say?

Obviously, Gomez is better against left-handed pitchers, hitting .385. He is only hitting .222 against righties.

What is your guys' opinion of this?

Nick N. said...

The situational stats are probably drawn from too small a sample size to make much out of (three PA with the bases loaded for instance); I'm not at all surprised that he hits lefties better than righties though, and I think that will probably continue.

Andrew Kneeland said...

Very true. It will be fun to see where he is at the mid- and three quarter-point in the season.

Dan said...

That is interesting that he hits better against lefties and later in the game. It does seem like other teams try to put lefties on the mound late in games to deal with all of the Twins' left-handed hitters, so maybe that explains it?

Bojangles said...

My Favorite part about Gomez is the way he jogs. Completely exaggerated arm motions. It's almost like he's running in place. I <3 Gomez.

Corey E. said...

Bravo Nick for a beautifully well written piece.

I disagree with you on Gomez obviously, but all the same. Very well said.

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