The Indians made quite a few highly publicized moves over the offseason. One move that did not get a lot of attention was the first one the team made, on Nov. 3. That day, the Tribe dealt middle-reliever Esmil Rogers to the Toronto Blue Jays for utility infielder Mike Aviles and a developmental rookie in Yan Gomes.
The key to the November swap for the Tribe appeared to be Aviles. Cleveland needed a utility infielder and Aviles has proven himself to be a quality one. At the time, there were also rumors that shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera could be traded and Aviles could have been a candidate to take his spot.
Little was mentioned about Gomes. He was thought to be something of a project. A 2012 rookie, Toronto had turned the utility player (he has manned third base the outfield and catcher in his pro career) into a full-time catcher. The Indians wanted to keep him going in that direction as insurance for major leaguers Carlos Santana and Lou Marson.
Gomes had proven himself a solid hitter at Triple-A Las Vegas last year, but was thought to need more work on the defensive side. The hope was he would be the full-time backstop in Columbus this year and be ready to take the catching duties in Cleveland down the road if Santana were to play first base more often.
As is often the case, however, plans had to be altered. Marson is currently on the disabled list for the second time this season. Gomes has gotten a lot more playing time in the majors than expected, at least at this juncture.
In 15 games, Gomes has continued to be a productive bat in the lineup. He has hit a pair of home runs and batted .273 in 44 at bats. What has been somewhat shocking has been his work behind the plate. Gomes is proving that he may be ready for the big show as a full-time catcher. In 112 innings, Gomes has not committed an error, allowing just one passed ball. Most impressive is his .667 success rate of gunning down would-be base stealers. He has caught 4-of-6 trying to swipe an extra bag.
Defensively, Gomes is actually outperforming Marson in the early going. Marson hangs his hat on the defensive side, but is 0-for-4 in throwing out attempted base thieves. That is a bit alarming in just 11 and 2/3 innings behind the dish.
As is well known, Marson does not provide much when it comes to offense. Gomes’ two blasts this year are just three behind Marson’s career total in 768 at bats. Marson also boasts a less-than-stellar .219 career batting average. However, the Indians have always liked him for his defense and ability to handle a pitching staff. For a guy only playing a couple days a week, it was enough.
It may no longer be enough, however. With Gomes proving more and more that he is a keeper, it might be time for the Indians to go in a new direction, sooner than planned. Gomes is certainly a better option for the batting order. If Santana sits or goes to first to allow another regular a day off, the drop off to Gomes is not nearly as steep as with Marson. Gomes can still come up with key hits and drive in runs.
With the fear that Gomes might not be defensively prepared for the big leagues being alleviated, he should receive consideration to stick in Cleveland even when Marson gets healthy in the next couple weeks.
Every year, baseball teams see pleasant surprises in the form of players stepping up who were not expected to do much. Gomes may be that guy for the Tribe in 2013.
One hurdle in Gomes stick full-time, however, is management’s insistence that he play full-time. They would rather have him catching every day in Columbus than part-time in Cleveland. That made sense when it seemed Gomes still needed fine-tuning. Now that he looks more polished than was figured, he could better-serve the Indians at the Major League level.
It is doubtful the Indians would carry three catchers on their roster. What they should do is send Marson to Triple-A or let him look for another team that can use a good defensive backup. The Indians appear to have an upgrade at their backup spot now, in the form of Gomes,
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