Turned loose: Green light suits Gomez's game
Free to be aggressive, All-Star has become one of MLB's top center fielders
PHOENIX -- One of Major League Baseball's most impressive breakout stories of 2013 surfaced, spectacularly, in Milwaukee. Carlos Gomez's enormous potential finally was transformed into high-level performance.
"It didn't come overnight," Gomez, 28, said. "It took hard work for a long time."
A National League All-Star and Rawlings Gold Glove Award winner in center field, Gomez took his prideful place with the elite at his position. He was right there with NL Most Valuable Player Award winner Andrew McCutchen of the Pirates and the Angels' Mike Trout, widely hailed as the game's best all-around player.
In 147 games, Gomez produced career highs across the board. His .284/.338/.506 line featured 27 doubles, 10 triples, 24 homers and 40 steals in 47 attempts.
Advanced metrics identified Gomez as the game's best center fielder, and he finished ninth in the NL MVP Award balloting. His 8.4 WAR [wins above replacement) by Baseball-Reference.com eclipsed teammate Ryan Braun's 7.8 in Braun's 2011 NL MVP Award season.
Gomez, engaging and upbeat on Saturday at Maryvale Baseball Park, credited the extraordinary foresight of his father, Carlos, and the trust of Brewers manager Ron Roenicke with providing the physical gifts and freedom to unleash the center fielder's wide range of skills.
"Every time back home [in Santiago, D.R.] they call me Carlos Gomez's son," Gomez said, grinning. "He always wanted to be a professional player but never had a chance. I would always say, `When I'm 21, I'm better than you. I'm the one who's professional.' Now I'm an All-Star. We have fun with it."
The elder Gomez was a 5-foot-8 shortstop who became an outfielder as he aged, his son recalled. His father's master plan, as Carlos tells it, was to fall for a woman of physical stature with the idea of producing a son blessed with the size he didn't have.
"My mom said, `Your dad was looking for me because I'm big,'" the Brewers star said. "She's taller than my dad. I'm the biggest one in my family. My brothers are both 5-foot-11, and my sister is 5-foot-4. I'm 6-foot-3."
Gomez, who carries 225 solid pounds, always has been ultra-aggressive in the batter's box, on the bases and in the outfield. That was not always embraced, he feels, by the Mets, with whom his career began in 2007, the Twins ['08-09] and in his first two seasons with the Brewers [ '10-11].
"For five years, the manager told me to hit the ball on the ground and run," Gomez said. "I'm 6-foot-3, 225. I'm strong. I can swing for power."
Roenicke arrived as Brewers manager in 2011, taking a team led by Braun and Prince Fielder to 96 wins and the NL Central title. Gomez, who fractured his collarbone in July, was limited to 94 games, batting .225 with a .276 on-base percentage.
When Roenicke turned Gomez loose to play the game freely, naturally in 2012, "it meant everything," Gomez said. "If I don't have the kind of manager with the team we have, I would never have been the player I am right now. When Ron gave me the green light to do the stuff I want to do, everything started right away."
Gomez raised his home run total by 11 to 19 and his steals by 21 to 37 in 2012, with a much-improved line of .260/.305/.463. The explosion was coming.
Swinging at 49.5 percent of first pitches in 2013 -- more than anybody else in the game -- Gomez was a .403 hitter with 107 first pitches put in play, and he clubbed eight of his 24 homers. He slugged .738.
"If I swung at the first pitch every time and hit .300, why not?" Gomez said. "If I hit .220, it's something else. If [pitchers] put it right there [over the plate], I'm going to be aggressive."
In the American League, the leader in hacking at first pitches, at 39.7 percent, was the one and only Miguel Cabrera. The three-time AL batting champion and 2012 Triple Crown king hit .448 and slugged .917 when he put 96 first serves in play, with 14 homers.
Maybe it's not such a bad idea to go up with the idea of crushing the first object you see in a zone you like.
Defensively, Gomez climbs walls and is off the metric charts. His 38 runs saved by Baseball Info Solutions calculations led all MLB outfielders in 2013. The only player who saved more runs was Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons, with 41.
"The Gold Glove is something I dreamed about," Gomez said. "I always had the potential to get a Gold Glove and always was feeling I was one of the best center fielders. The numbers say I'm the best center fielder in the game [defensively]. I'm going to continue to work and bring that stuff, saving runs for my team."
Roenicke, a splendid defensive center fielder in his time, understands why a young athlete craves the trust of his manager -- especially one who had been branded a showboat by critics.
"Carlos is a super-talented player," Roenicke said. "He plays hard and has learned to play for his teammates. He's become a dangerous hitter, with power to go with his speed, and he can go get 'em in center field. He's crazy out there. He's running into walls, stealing bases. And he can throw."
That is the definition of a rare five-tool player.
"He's one of the leaders on this team," Roenicke said. "It's a joy watching him play the game and interact with his teammates."
The clubhouse comes alive with Gomez's presence.
"Carlos is a great guy to be with and play with," said shortstop and fellow Dominican Jean Segura. "He plays the game the right way -- all out."
For that Carlos thanks a couple of authority figures -- his father and the man, Roenicke, who runs his professional home.