Gomes Hoping to Catch On with Long Term Role with Tribe
During Spring Training the DTTWLN staff will profile and examine the coaches and players that make up and are vying to be part of the 2013 Cleveland Indians—A Team With A New Direction. Today, we examine one of the 15 newcomers to the 40-man roster this winter and the role they can play moving forward.
By Mike Brandyberry
It isn’t rare in Spring Training for a player to hit his way on or off a 25-man, Opening Day roster. However, in the case of Yan Gomes making the Indians roster revolves more around his catching.
And to make it more confusing, the better Gomes catches, the more likely the Tribe sends him to Triple-A Columbus.
“We’re still trying to learn about him,” Indians Manager Terry Francona said on Sunday. “We’re hoping that we’d see enough that we’d want to keep catching him because if you happen to run into a guy, that’s quite a coup. We’ve seen nothing to deter that thought. We want to keep seeing him catch.”
The Indians are have been trying to learn about Gomes, his full skillset and where he fits in the organization since he was acquired via trade with Mike Aviles from the Toronto Blue Jays on Nov. 3 for Esmil Rogers.
“I was extremely surprised and excited,” Gomes said. “I was in the Dominican Republic playing winter ball. It was a weird thing. I couldn’t get service, so I just got a text saying, ‘call me’ (from Toronto Blue Jays General Manager Alex Anthopoulos). He just told me we’re sad to see you go, but we’re trading you to Cleveland.”
The Blue Jays were sad to see the 25-year old, right-handed hitter leave the organization after he hit .328, with 13 home runs and 59 runs batted in at Triple-A Reno in 334 plate appearances. After catching most of his professional career until 2012, the Blue Jays chose to play Gomes behind the plate and at third and first base. He split time between all three positions, both at Triple-A and the big league level when the Blue Jays promoted him.
In Toronto, Gomes played in 43 games, hitting only .204, with four home runs and 13 runs batted in, while making 20 starts at first base, nine at catcher and eight at third base. Despite continuing to develop as a catcher, Gomes was never frustrated with his new utility role and how it affected his handling of the pitching staff.
“The last thing it was, was frustrating because it’s what kept me up there,” Gomes said. “My versatility is what got me there, what kept me there and why they needed me. It made it a really good tool for me.”
“It did set me back a little bit with catching. I had to really focus on learning a lot of new things.”
However, now the Indians are asking Gomes to dedicate his efforts exclusively to playing catcher. His ability to prove he can be a full-time catcher, especially the defensive requirements, will determine his role moving forward with the organization.
“Because Gomes hasn’t done it, can he possibly be a major league catcher,” Francona said. “That’s a lot to handle, but we need to answer that.”
With the exception of one game in Surprise, Ariz. against the Kansas City Royals this spring, Gomes has looked capable of handling the position. Gomes had a throwing error in the game when he threw to third base when no one was covering, thus allowing a run to easily score. Offensively, he’s thrived in the first half of Spring Training, hitting .348 (8 for 23), with a home run and four doubles. His bat appears big league ready.
“Pretty damn good,” Francona said of his initial reactions to Gomes this spring. “You try not to let guys’ at-bats influence how you view their defense because that can happen real easily. Catching-wise, I think we’ve all thought he’s been real solid. The initial returns have been real solid.”
“He has the ability to hit the ball and hit it out of the ballpark. His catching looks like he can handle the staff. There’s nothing not to like.”
Gomes has been the player who has benefitted the most in the Indians’ camp from expanded playing time due to players in the World Baseball Classic. With starting catcher Carlos Santana playing for the Dominican Republic, Gomes and Lou Marson have alternated days catching since he departed the Tribe’s camp on Mar. 3. With the Dominican Republic’s advancement to the second round of play, Gomes opportunity will remain expanded through at least the weekend.
Ironic that Gomes decision not to play for his native Brazil results in expanded playing time. Gomes is the first Brazilian-born player to appear in a Major League game and drove in the lone run during the 1-0 qualifier final against Panama last December. The victory landed Brazil in their first World Baseball Classic, but Gomes elected to remain in the Tribe’s camp and compete for a position on the roster.
“It was extremely exciting,” Gomes said of playing in the qualifier. “It was such an honor to represent your country and to win the qualifier when you aren’t supposed to be sniffing it. It really brought a lot of excitement to the country. Hopefully it will get things going in Brazil to open up the game of baseball.”
Gomes’ chances to make the Indians revolve around his ability to be a catcher long term. If Francona and the organization feel he can be a catcher, he’ll likely begin the season at Triple-A and play every day. Santana will be the Tribe’s starter and Cleveland has already committed a Major League contract to the backup Marson. Gomes offense—combined with his developing defense—would allow him to overtake Marson at some point and potentially expand his role with Santana’s flexibility to play other positions.
In the meantime, Gomes is not worrying about where he fits in the Tribe’s future plans. He’s just trying to continue to impress.
“I can only control what I can do,” Gomes said. “I’m going to go to Spring Training and try to make a good first impression. I’m just ready to play my game and see what happens.”
Photo: Jordan Bastian/MLB.com