Cleveland Sports Insiders

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Orbiting Cleveland: Yan Gomes, superstar?

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The Cleveland Indians’ current attendance may lead you to believe otherwise, but there is no denying that this team showcased a new approach this past offseason.

The Tribe was aggressive on a variety of fronts — including free agency, trades, minor league free agents — and the end result was a team that looked significantly different from the 2012 version.

Some of the moves have succeeded (Kazmir), but there have also been some busts (Reynolds, Myers). Nonetheless, it’s hard to fault the team for its aggressive approach; the front office’s mentality just seemed to represent such a change in philosophy from recent years.

With the Indians’ record at 74-65 and the team now just three games back in the American League Wild Card race, it’s crucial that the team’s offseason acquisitions start to pay dividends. That’s not to say that every single new player has to have a career month, but it is imperative that at least a few have something close to that.

One of the prime reasons that the Indians are still contending at this point is the fact that some of the team’s smaller moves have turned out so good. Who could have ever predicted that Ryan Raburn would be leading the Indians in OPS with .941 on September 6?

While Raburn has certainly made an impact in his short time with the club, it could be argued that no other offseason move, big or small, has been more significant than the trade to acquire catcher Yan Gomes.

Back in November, Gomes was acquired along with Mike Aviles from the Toronto Blue Jays in exchange for hard-throwing reliever Esmil Rogers. At the time, Gomes appeared to be a nice find, but any Indians fan would be lying if he or she said they foresaw Gomes making the strong impression that he’s made thus far.

Just how good has Gomes been? To better put it into perspective, of all the players that the Indians acquired this past offseason either via free agency or a trade, Gomes is tied with Raburn for the highest WAR per FanGraphs. Just take a look below:

In addition to WAR, Gomes has been impressive in a variety of other ways as well. He currently owns a .297/.343/.502 line with 14 doubles, two triples, nine home runs and 33 RBI. Offensive skills, especially power, are desirable in catchers, and Gomes seems to have these skills in bunches.

When the Indians acquired Gomes, it appeared as if the book was already out on the Brazilian native. Most thought he had the offense to possibly be a solid catcher, but did anyone believe that Gomes could already leave such a strong impression?

You can count the Toronto Blue Jays among the non-believers. Otherwise, why would they have ever shipped out Gomes as part of a deal to acquire a hard-throwing reliever?

In the Blue Jays’ defense, at the time the deal was made, their top prospect was catcher Travis d’Arnaud, but he was eventually shipped to the New York Mets in the R.A. Dickey deal. Furthermore, the Blue Jays played Gomes all around the baseball diamond and never seemed too committed to him as a backstop, which could also be because of d’Arnaud’s presence in the farm system. Regardless, the Blue Jays let an offensive-minded catcher leave and got basically nothing in return — the front office is probably having hissy fits right now.

Of course, offense is just one part of being a quality catcher at the Major League level. Defense is arguably even more important, and that’s where Gomes has been somewhat surprising.

At best, it was believed Gomes was somewhat of a project and would need more repetitions as an everyday catcher in the minors before he would be able to catch in the Majors. However, Gomes qucikly put that notion to rest this season.

So far, Gomes boast a catcher’s ERA of 3.75. In comparison, the Tribe’s regular backstop, Carlos Santana, has a catcher’s ERA of 4.18.

Obviously, the value of a statistic like catcher’s ERA is highly debatable, but there are other areas where Gomes continues to impress. For instance, the right-handed hitting Gomes has shown that he has a cannon for an arm, and he’s actually thrown out 48 percent (14-of-29) of would-be base stealers this season. This is another area where Gomes outperforms Santana as he’s only thrown out 16 percent (9-of-58) this season.

So, with that in mind, what exactly does the future hold for Gomes? He’s had a very good 2013 season, and he also looks to be a very good player… but can he be great?

That’s one of the questions that persists for Indians fans every time they see Gomes play. Regardless of the situation, he seems to perform, and the fact is that he passed the eye test a long time ago.

Here are some other interesting Gomes tidbits:

  • Gomes has proven to be a clutch performer as he’s hitting .318 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
  • His splits are basically non-existent. Gomes is hitting .312 against left-handers and .289 against righties.
  • Gomes’ numbers have suffered no dropoff when he leaves Progressive Field. In 35 home games, he owns a .292 average, and he’s hitting .302 in 32 away games.

All of the numbers above do seem to indicate that Gomes is well on his way to becoming a great player. Unfortunately, the harsh reality is that the 2013 season is still a very small sample size as he’s only played in 67 games and had 219 at-bats.

It’s also a bit concerning that no one seemed to have Gomes pegged as a future star or even Major League regular in the big leagues. This would not be the first time that the pundits overlooked a powerful at-bat, but it’s also a bit concerning when you realize that the very organization that drafted Gomes, Toronto, overlooked him as well.

However, while his playing time has been limited, there is no denying that Gomes has made the most of his time thus far. Also, there does at least seem to be one baseball expert who was on the Gomes bandwagon a good while ago.

Most associate Barry Larkin for his time as a 12-time All-Star shortstop with the Cincinnati Reds, but he also has more recently been associated with Brazilian baseball.

In 2012, Larkin was invited by the Brazilian Baseball Federation to manage their national team in qualifiers for the World Baseball Classic. Brazil upset Panama to qualify for the Classic that was held earlier this year, and Gomes seemed to leave quite the impression on his manager.

After defeating Panama, Larkin identified how he felt about Gomes, and his words were telling.

“I think some stars were born in this tournament,” Larkin said. “Yes, Yan Gomes, being the first Brazilian player in the big leagues, I think that is huge.”

Consider those comments for a moment. “Star.” Is that what Gomes is on his way to becoming? Or has a star already been born as Larkin suggests?

It’s hard not to get excited about Gomes. On the surface, it appears as if he does everything that a Major League team could ever want from a catcher.

He’s proven that he can call a great game. He’s more than proficient at controlling the running game. And finally, perhaps best of all, Gomes has shown that he has an above-average bat with some solid pop. When you mix all those things together, the end result is pretty simple — star.

So, with that being said, what exactly does the future hold for the Indians’ new “star” catcher?

The first and most important thing is that the Indians find away to get Gomes an ample amount of at-bats next season. Santana has been a staple at catcher for the Indians during the past few seasons, and there does not appear to be any indication that the team is willing to move him from that position.

Knowing that, might it appropriate to find a way for the Indians to have Santana and Gomes split time between catcher and designated hitter? In other words, each player would have three starts a week at catcher and then another three at designated hitter.

This would clearly be a rather unorthodox approach, but it might be something for the team to consider. Santana and Gomes’ value is maximized by their ability to stay at catcher, so it makes sense to have both of them get regular playing time at that position.

Of course, the other option is that the Indians could always move Santana to designated hitter/backup catcher and give the majority of the regular catching duties to Gomes. It might seem to be a bit of a stretch as Gomes has only played in 67 games with the Indians, but he’s left an undeniable impression in those 67 games, and it’s clear that the Tribe needs to find a way to get him more time behind the plate.

Regardless of what happens, it’s clear that the Indians have a good problem on their hands. Most teams long for one offensive-minded catcher, and it appears as if the Tribe now has two.

As for Gomes’ star potential, it’s still hard to conclude as to what the future holds. However, it’s hard to not be impressed as all of the numbers suggest that this guy has legitimate staying power in the Major Leagues.

Also, sometimes it’s better just to use your eyes. Gomes clearly passes the eye test, and I dunno about you, but when I watch him play, it’s just blatantly obvious — I’m seeing stars.

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