Thursday, 15 August 2013

Anticipating Anthony Gose

There's a lot of talk about Anthony Gose these last couple of days, and with good reason. While he's expected to get a call up as soon as today after the Bonifacio trade, it's notable that Pillar got the first call when Colby Rasmus went on the DL yesterday. This essentially signals that Gose has, for the time being at least, been passed on the depth chart by Kevin Pillar. The same Kevin Pillar that was drafted in the 32nd round and considered pretty much a non-prospect as recently as this past off-season.

In my own little baseball social media universe, the Gose chatter sort of reached an interesting point last night in a brief Twitter debate primarily between Andrew Stoeten of Drunk Jays Fans and Mike Wilner of Sportsnet and the FAN590. Here are the highlights from the heavyweights:

It goes back and forth a bit more, but you get both sides of the debate by now. On the one hand, Anthony Gose is still really young. He just turned 23 a few days ago, so this has basically been his age 22 season and already his second at AAA. Being young for a level is always promising, as success by a less experienced player against more experienced opponents generally bodes well for said player's continued development. It also means they have more time to figure things out before physical tools, like the speed Gose relies on so heavily, begin to degrade with age.

On the other hand, 3000 plate appearances is an awful lot of plate appearances in which to demonstrate an aptitude for hitting baseballs with a stick, and so far Gose hasn't really done it. He posted the best numbers of his Minor League career in 2012, playing for AAA Las Vegas in the dreaded Pacific Coast League. If you're unfamiliar with the various quirks of Minor League park factors, the PCL is notoriously hitter friendly. The baked, barren infields play like asphalt. The thin air and high temperatures mean breaking balls don't break and batted balls soar like they have wings. In this environment he posted a .286/.366/.419 line and a .352 wOBA, which is pretty good when combined with 34 stolen bases in 46 attempts and elite defense at a premium position, even if he was striking out 21.1% of the time. The thing is that his wOBA was only good for 8th on that team for players with at least 200 PAs. The names ahead of him include Snider, Thames, Cooper and Sierra. How's that lot looking these days? The next two after him? Hechavarria and McCoy. You can see why PCL numbers need to be taken with a heaping helping of salt.

This year, with the Buffalo Bisons in the far more neutral International League, Gose has taken a step back at the plate and on the base paths. His line is .239/.312/.337 for a .301 wOBA. He's also striking out 27.4% of the time. He was hot when with the Jays for 26 PAs over 13 games in May and June, and he's been looking better lately in AAA, but without resorting to small sample sizes and arbitrary end points it's impossible to call his season at the plate anything but disappointing. More surprising has been his inefficiency on the base paths. He's stolen just 21 bases and been caught 13 times. That's just not very good for a guy whose speed is supposed to be his greatest weapon.

Much has been made of his reported sulking earlier this year after he was sent back down to Buffalo after a short but strong showing in the bigs. He felt he'd played well enough to stay, but since asset and roster management are things, sometimes that just isn't enough. The theory is that his disappointment affected his play, and who's to say if it did or didn't? Whatever. I'm not into psycho-analyzing from afar athletes that I've never met and probably never will. The point is, whatever has been ailing him this year had better be behind him, because he's about to get another shot to strut his stuff on the biggest stage and the stakes are getting higher.

The reason I say the stakes are getting higher, is because if Gose doesn't make an impact in this opportunity it will be hard for the club to count on him contributing in 2014. Unless they trade him or fail to make other arrangements in the outfield, that probably means he starts the year in AAA again, now 23 going on 24. Repeating Minor League levels never looks good on a prospect, and it would be Gose's third time around at AAA. He might get a bit of a break due to his age and because it would only be his second in a real league, but I can't help but think it would start other teams thinking "He can't hit" instead of "Oh man... if he learns to hit!". That's not good for the prospect stock, and therefore his trade value, which is still higher than a lot of fans think. What happens, though, if his third year is also lousy? Also, at what point do the Jays relent on getting him every day at bats in the minors, accept that maybe he'll never hit, and slot him into a Rajai-with-better-defense bench role?

You see, Gose doesn't necessarily have to hit to provide value. In 2012, he was worth 0.5 fWAR to the Jays in 56 games while hitting .223/.303/.319. If you prorate that over an entire season it'd be about a win and a half of pure defense and base running. He wouldn't have to hit much more than that to be a 2-3 win player, which is a solid Major League starter. The problem is he hasn't really shown that he can hit much more than that. At this point he could be anything from a perennial All Star to a fourth outfielder, and it all depends on his hit tool. You get a lot more return for trading a projected perennial All Star than a projected fourth outfielder though, so Gose showing some ability to hit at the Major League level could be big for the 2014 Blue Jays whether he's playing for them or for somebody else.

Now, none of this is intended to write off Gose's tantalizing potential. It's not to say that if he doesn't hit in this call up that the Jays should deal him for whatever he'll fetch or that he's bound for a bench role. I'm rooting for him to succeed as a Blue Jay, because he has the potential to be exactly the kind of player that I love watching. I just think that Gose is reaching a point in his development, and the Blue Jays are at a point in their "window" of contention, where this call up could have big implications for the team and his role with it going forward.

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