The Cleveland Indians open the 2014 season with new expectations despite many questions. The Indians’ 25-man roster will look different than the group that won 92 games and lost the American League Wild Card game to the Tampa Bay Rays. While the roster may change and the expectations grow, Cleveland will need answer many questions this spring before opening the season in Oakland on March 31. Today, we look at one of the Indians’ players who will be in a new role this season than they were in 2013.
It seems like it’s been forever, but just one year ago, most Clevelanders didn’t know who Yan Gomes even was.
If you did know who Gomes was, he was probably just known as the throw-in or extra guy in the Mike Aviles trade with Toronto. He was the man without a position because he was supposed to play some catcher, some third base and maybe even some at first but was also supposed to be a master-of-none. After Lou Marson’s season ended on the first weekend of April, however, Gomes got the call up and never looked back.
Now, less than one year later, Gomes is all-but guaranteed a starting role and will be a fixture in the Tribe’s everyday lineup for 2014.
“I’m not taking it like that,” Gomes said. “I’m trying to earn a roster spot, still. I’m still trying to earn respect. I’m just coming in this year like I did last year; working hard to prepare for the year.”
Gomes’ hard work paid excellent dividends last season, as Gomes batted an outstanding .294 in 88 games during his first real shot in the Big Leagues. He also added 11 homeruns and 38 RBI to his total while he dominated opposing baserunners defensively, as well.
“I felt like I got to be pretty close with Sandy Alomar and Mickey Callaway,” Gomes said of his successful rookie campaign, “and with the talks that we had I learned a lot more of what I was supposed to do and what they expected from me.”
What eventually became expected was for Gomes to take over as the starting catcher down the stretch and through the Tribe’s race to the playoffs. Gomes wants to take what he learned last season and apply it early on in 2014.
“Really it’s just to take to it how I took to it in the second half,” Gomes said. “I just want to make sure that I’m healthy every day and I’m just trying to stay levelheaded. I want to make sure I’ve got the pitching staff where I want them. I’m going to have a little more responsibility now, so it’s exciting.”
As the probable everyday catcher, Gomes’ arrival has pushed the other catcher, Carlos Santana, into what will likely be a super-utility role in the Indians everyday lineup. Santana has played first base and DH multiple times during his career, but Gomes’ emergence has also pushed the veteran to try his hand at third base as well.
“He wants to help any way he can,” Gomes said of Santana. “If he moves to third, then he feels like that’s going to help. It’s exciting to get going and to see where everybody’s going to be.
“That situation is his situation. Whatever he’s doing, he’s still going to be a huge part of the team and I can’t let it take away from what I’ve got going on behind the plate. I’m trying to lead our staff and it’s exciting.”
The staff that Gomes will take charge of will look extremely different than it did a year ago. Gone are starting pitchers Ubaldo Jimenez and Scott Kazmir as well as bullpen arms Chris Perez, Joe Smith, Matt Albers and Rich Hill. Gomes knows that a roster full of new arms can be a challenge, but it is one that he and the Indians seem ready for.
“We’re definitely going to miss them,” Gomes said of his former teammates. “Just like (Kazmir’s) presence here and the way he carried himself was well respected here. But we’ve got to move on. We’ve got a great bunch of guys coming in and we’ve got a bunch of guys battling for a spot.”
“We definitely have a young staff, but with the experience that we got last year, they’re going to grow from it. Just to see what kind of situations that they were thrown into and they succeeded. The momentum is going to keep going for sure.”
With the momentum rolling full force into the middle stages of spring training, Gomes is extremely excited about being a part of such a young, close-knit team.
“I’m excited. We’re going into a very promising season,” Gomes said. “We’re really excited with what’s going on now. We’ve just got to keep it rolling. Even though we went down in that Wild Card Game, it was exciting just to see the fans and how into it they were. We just need to keep it going from there.”
Heading into his first season as a regular catcher, Gomes also knows that his offense needs to play second-fiddle to his handling of the young pitchers on the Tribe’s staff.
“It’s extremely important, but our staff is making it so easy,” Gomes added. “I’m excited for it. I’m excited for the challenge. This is exactly what you work for and I spent the entire offseason working my butt off for it. I’m ready to go.”
This season, we’ll all be ready for Yan Gomes too.
Photo: Chuck Crow/The Plain Dealer