Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ex-Twins watch: Carlos Gomez

Carlos Gomez celebrates his second home run of the game
Monday in the Milwaukee dugout.
With free agency and arbitration and ever-shifting budgetary concerns, it makes sense for teams to limit their future focus to five years. Five years is the period of team control for a rookie.

This is the fourth season since the Twins traded away Carlos Gomez, the sixth since the Twins acquired him in the Johan Santana trade.

Only now is the outfielder emerging as a legitimate star. It took Go-Go years to find the key to his toolbox. Could this have happened while he was with the Twins?

In retrospect, I see these problems with how the Twins handled/developed Gomez:

  • He was up too soon;
  • They tried to force him into a role he wasn't fit for;
  • There may have been a language barrier.

Go back to spring training 2008. The 2007 Twins had one good outfielder, Torii Hunter (Michael Cuddyer had missed much of the season with injury), and Hunter had left as a free agent. The Twins traded for Delmon Young to fill one outfield spot, and had a spring training competition for center field among farm system product Denard Span trade acquisitions Gomez and Jason Pridie.

Span was the best of the three that spring, but it was Gomez who came away with the job, probably because the front office wanted something immediate on the field from the Santana trade.

Gomez was just 22, and he had been pushed too quickly up the Mets system before the Twins got him (a chronic problem with Mets farmhands at the time). He wasn't ready to deal with major league pitching.

The Twins compounded the problem by forcing him into the leadoff slot. Span's skill sets lend themselves to a table-setter role; Gomez's do not. (Even now, Gomez has drawn just nine walks this season.) This just increased the frustration felt by team management with Gomez, who was being asked to do something he wasn't likely to succeed at.

Span came up in midseason and gave the Twins a legitimate leadoff hitter. By midseason 2009, Gomez was clearly on the outs with Ron Gardenhire, who was more willing to live with Young's flaws than Gomez's.

That, I argued at the time, was a mistake. Gomez's defensive skills more than made up for whatever offensive difference there was between the two — and the hitting stats at the time weren't that far apart.

I continue to wonder how much of the difficulty the Twins have had developing Latin players in recent years can be traced to the lack of Spanish speakers on the coaching staff. Gomez. Francisco Liriano. Alexi Casilla. Only through the offseason shakeup of the coaching staff this year have the Twins added a Spanish-speaking coach (Bobby Cuellar), and even he's out in the bullpen during games.

The Twins traded Gomez soon after the 2009 season for J.J. Hardy, and Gomez was the same frustrating player for the Brewers for two years that he had been with the Twins. Just as he had lost the center field job in Minnesota to Span, he lost the job in Milwaukee to Nyjer Morgan.

But Morgan wasn't/isn't as good as Span, and last year Gomez reclaimed the center field job. And now he's clearly a better player than Span, or Young, or anybody else who was taking playing time from him earlier in his career.

It was a long time coming — more time than the Twins expected six years ago, arguably more time than they could afford to invest in him.

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