Brewers' Gomez brings many skills to the table
Center fielder is a Gold Glove winner with power, speed, outgoing personality
One of the many cool things about the Brewers getting off to a flying start is that it shines a brighter spotlight on their dazzling center fielder, Carlos Gomez. If he's not the best defensive player in baseball, he's in the conversation, right there with Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons and a very short list of others.
So, let's start there.
"It's amazing," Brewers right fielder Ryan Braun said of center fielder's defensive ability. "It's a gift."
You can bet pitchers love having Gomez behind them.
"He reminds me so much of -- when I came up [with the Twins] -- having Torii Hunter out there," Brewers right-hander Kyle Lohse said. "He's not afraid to do whatever it takes to catch the ball. As a pitcher, you appreciate that so much."
If Gomez didn't do one other thing, he'd be an impact player with the way he's able to run down balls, saving runs and games. He won his first Gold Glove Award in 2013, and he finished second among center fielders in the National League with 13 assists. According to fangraphs.com, only Simmons and Manny Machado had higher defensive ratings.
Another thing about Gomez's outfield play that impresses teammates is his fearlessness. When he's zeroed in on a baseball, that baseball is going to be caught.
Now, about those pesky walls. Yeah, he has bounced off a few of them.
"Sometimes, it hurts him, Lohse said. "Last year, he had a couple of times when he went hard into the wall and hurt a knee or a shoulder. He plays hard every pitch. He doesn't take anything for granted. He's a true joy to watch."
Still, when you ask the Brewers about Gomez, they don't stop there. They love his defense. They love his offense, too.
Gomez finished ninth in NL Most Valuable Player Award voting last season after a 24-homer, 40-steal, 10-triple season. He was the only player in baseball with at least 20 home runs and 35 stolen bases.
What the Brewers also love about Gomez -- and what the fans feed off of -- is how he plays the game. His laughter is a constant presence in the clubhouse, and if he's not the happiest guy on earth, he's probably in that conversation, too.
That stuff is important. In the course of a long season, doses of his enthusiasm are a way to combat fatigue, travel and the assorted aches and pains with which every player deals.
"That energy is infectious," Braun said. "He has so much fun playing the game. He's so much fun in the locker room every day. He lets his personality shine, and he's a lot of fun to be around."
Gomez is so emotional and so open with those emotions that he occasionally rubs opponents the wrong way. For instance, Braves catcher Brian McCann got so annoyed at what he considered showboating that he confronted Gomez at home plate after a home run last season.
Gomez was suspended a game for the incident. To those who know Gomez best, it's simply him being who he is.
"He's like a big kid -- in a good sense," Lohse said. "He enjoys being one of the best at what he does."
One reason for that approach may be that Gomez wasn't an overnight success. He was 21 years old when the Mets called him up in 2007, and for a lot of seasons since then, baseball people weren't quite sure what to make of him.
He was involved in two high-profile trades, going from the Mets to the Twins in the Johan Santana trade, then going from the Twins to the Brewers in a deal involving J.J. Hardy.
Brewers president of baseball operations and general manager Doug Melvin bet on a player with an off-the-chart skill set eventually figuring things out. Some scouts saw Gomez as a platoon player, but the more the Brewers saw of him, the more they liked what they saw.
He was 27 last season, when he had 500 at-bats for only the second time in his career. Suddenly, it all came together. With the Brewers looking like a team capable of going back to the postseason, Gomez began the day Saturday hitting .386, and he and his team scattered across the NL statistical leader boards.
Last season amounted to a coming-out party of sorts for Andrew McCutchen, as the Pirates' postseason run introduced his greatness to a lot of fans. If the Brewers keep it up, Gomez could be that guy in 2014. He's worth the wait.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.