Gomez determined to succeed
Center fielder hired pitchers to throw him BP over the winter
PHOENIX -- Ron Roenicke remembers managing an outfielder named Braulio Castillo at Double-A San Antonio in 1991. The kid was 22, and had outrageous physical tools, and Roenicke was sure he'd be a superstar Major Leaguer."There aren't too many guys who have his tools," Roenicke said, "and I don't even know if he ever got to Triple-A." Castillo actually did make it to the Majors, but the fact Roenicke does not remember illustrates the point. Castillo appeared in 56 games over two seasons with the Phillies, vanished from organized ball after 1994 and then re-appeared, according to Baseball-Reference.com, as a 38-year-old independent leaguer in 2006. Chalk him up as another example that raw ability only carries a player so far. Which brings us to 25-year-old Carlos Gomez, who has been the next big thing three organizations over. First with the Mets, who thought he'd be the next Carlos Beltran. Then the Twins, who made sure Gomez was part of the return in the trade that sent Johan Santana to New York. Now it's the Brewers, who traded for Gomez two winters ago hoping he'd put those tools to use.
2010 Spring Training - Milwaukee Brewers
News & Features
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Sights & Sounds
Spring Training Info
The spring signs are encouraging. Gomez, back this week from a bout of back stiffness, entered his start against the Padres on Tuesday batting .390 this spring, with a .405 on-base percentage and three stolen bases in four attempts. It's an exceptionally small sample, but what has really impressed the Brewers' new manager is Gomez's work in the hours before game time.
"If you go out and watch [Gomez in batting practice], he's really trying to hit line drives up the middle toward the second baseman," Roenicke said. "And he's staying there all the time -- I think that's what [Milwaukee hitting coach] Dale [Sveum] likes. All of his at-bats during the game, that's basically his approach."Gomez will still chase the occasional low and away slider, Roenicke said. "But his approach is to the point that he is going to lay off it more often," Roenicke said. "He's going to pick up the spin and hold off and not chase that pitch." At some point last season, Gomez approached Sveum and offered to do whatever it took to reclaim his job. It was a "big point," Sveum told the manager, in the relationship between hitting coach and hitter. But the 2010 season was still mostly a dud. Gomez lost at-bats to shoulder and head injuries, and then to upstart rookie Lorenzo Cain. He batted .247 and struck out in 23 percent of his at-bats, way too often for a player who hit only five home runs in more than 300 plate appearances. He finished with a sub-.300 on-base percentage for the fourth time in as many Major League seasons, robbing him of more opportunities to use his effortless speed. Gomez knows he has to get on base more. You figure he'd be tired of answering questions about it. "I'm not tired of talking about it, because I want to get this changed," he said. "I tried to get it changed in winter ball, and then I went home and took light [batting practice] three days a week. I want to get complete command of the strike zone. If I get on base, there's no question about it, I have a chance to be an everyday player. "I'm no rookie any more. This is going to be my fifth year in the league, and I recognize when I do something wrong and when I do something good. I know what I can do." Veteran pitcher -- and fellow Dominican -- Livan Hernandez apparently does, too. He suggested that Gomez hire pitchers to throw him live batting practice before the start of Spring Training. So that's just what Gomez did, renting time at a stadium in Santiago and recruiting pitchers -- some who had been recently released by Major League organizations, some still active -- to throw. Two or three days a week, for the final four weeks of the offseason, they fired everything his way -- fastballs, sliders, changeups. Gomez saw as many pitches as possible. "I came here ready to play," he said. "I have to try to get on base as much as I can. If I get on base at .350, I can steal 50 bases, easy. I can score 100 runs. If I score runs, it's going to be good for everybody." Roenicke wasn't ready to set any statistical goals for his center fielder. "I don't want to put too much on him offensively, because that's not really why he's there," the manager said. "Yeah, we want him to be a great offensive player, but I want him to be a great defensive player, also. With our pitching staff, if we can run down balls in the gaps for these guys, we're going to have a nice year pitching-wise." Competition will come from several fronts. The Brewers are choosing from a pool of outfield candidates that include Chris Dickerson and Jeremy Reed, both left-handed hitters and plus defenders. There's also switch-hitter Brandon Boggs, who has parlayed playing time into a team-best 12 RBIs entering Tuesday. Looking to the future, two of the Brewers' top outfield prospects -- Caleb Gindl and Logan Schafer -- are center fielders. But the starting job is Gomez's, Roenicke made clear early in camp, and Gomez said he's excited to play for a manager who promises an aggressive running game. Gomez figures the Brewers have six players who could steal 20 or more bases, and thinks the mere threat of aggressiveness will spark "panic" in opponents. "All I know," Gomez said, "is I came here ready to be starting. I work hard and do my job. After that, I don't control anything."