Monday, March 25, 2013

2013 Breakout Candidate: Carlos Gomez

My first breakout candidate for 2013 was Rick Porcello. My next candidate is Brewer centerfielder Carlos Gomez.

Gomez, as most remember, was the center piece of the much criticized Johan Santana trade between the Twins and Mets. He was the key return for the Twins. At the time, the trade was lambasted as being not enough for the great Johan. Frankly, I agreed. I simply couldn't see the upside in Carlos Gomez, but scouts long predicted improved power as he matured. That power finally emerged in the second half of 2012.

In the second half of 2012, Gomez hit .278/.321/.488 with 14 homers and 26 steals. I'm completely buying into his second half breakout. Others aren't so sure due in part to his first half performance, wherein he hit a less than inspiring .233/.280/.423 with 5 homers and 11 steals. So, which is the real Gomez?

For me, there are a number of indicators pointing to a 2013 breakout, including the following:

  • He hit 19 homers last year in somewhat limited duty with 14 of them coming in the second half. I don’t really see anything that indicates that the power was a fluke. 
  • He has good size.
  • He has very good swing mechanics.
  • He has plus bat speed. 
  • His fly ball% has risen, which is a big change from his early career ground ball heavy tendencies. His average fly ball plus home run distance has been 288 feet for the past two seasons, a jump from the 274 feet he posted in 2010. 
  • Last year, he not only hit more homers, but he actually hit homers to the opposite field, which he had never done before. 
  • He’s entering his age 27 season, so he's just now hitting his prime.
  • The average distance of his homers has increased, which indicates that they weren't flukey. 
  • His plate discipline is atrocious, but it’s similar to early career Alfonso Soriano and it certainly didn't hurt Alfonso’s power production. 

To me, the power spike seems legit. And, we've always known the speed is legit. So, 2013 could reveal Gomez to be a very strong combination of speed/power, tools/skills, and plus defense at a premier defensive position. If so, the contract extension the Brewers gave him this offseason could be a steal.

In addition to the above factors, Gomez has one of the a prettiest righthanded swings in the game. Below is a screen capture of a highlight showing two photos, from different angles, of his swing at the same moment in time. It's a very fundamentally sound swing. He has good balance, strong lower body action, and good extension, which allows him to drive an outside corner pitch the opposite way with power.

Given his plus swing mechanics and electric tools, there are a lot of highlights on worth watching. Oddly enough, my favorite highlight isn't a tape measure home run, an explosive stolen base, or a crazy diving catch in center. My favorite highlight is actually a take-out slide that broke up a double play and allowed a run to score.

The play demonstrates plus speed, very good technique on the slide (avoiding the base, upending the fielder, and still being within reach of the base), and very good situational awareness. It's the type of play made by a heady player who appreciates the nuances of the game. For comparison, think about Matt Holliday's take out "slide" of Marco Scutaro during the playoffs last year.

Need another reason to believe in Carlos Gomez? Not only does he play the game hard, but he's committed to improving. If you watch the practice sessions of athletes of any caliber, they frequently spend more time practicing their strengths than they do their weaknesses. Why? It's just more fun that way. But, it's also far less valuable. Gomez, on the other hand, did something equal parts unique and wise over the offseason. He identified the big flaw in his game and took steps to improve on it.

Gomez hired a former minor league pitcher to throw him 50 pitches a day in the Dominican Republic. The kicker? He didn't swing at any of them until late in the winter. All he did was track, track, track pitches. Gomez's primary weakness is plate discipline. A large part of plate discipline is pitch recognition. Gomez not only recognized his main flaw, but actively took steps to improve on it. He not only worked harder, he worked smarter. Frankly, I'm surprised more hitters haven't utilized this technique, as I think it might work.

For 2013, most projections have Gomez hitting fewer than 20 homers. If healthy, I'm actually expecting him to hit 25 bombs and steal at least 35 bases. I'll be very surprised if he doesn't hit at least 20 homers. And, I think there's a non-zero chance that there's a very big season on the horizon for Gomez (30/50?, 40/40?) in the next couple of seasons.

If I was a bettin' man (which I'm not) or the Brewer GM (which I'm not), I'd be comfortable betting on the future of Carlos Gomez.

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