“Don’t pay for saves”. “Position scarcity is a myth.” “He’s below the Wandy-line”. These are phrases you would commonly hear ESPN’s Matthew Berry espouse on a regular basis during his days on the Fantasy Focus Baseball Podcast. A lot of the time, it was nonsense – as he’ll happily admit. Sometimes though, his ‘advice’ made sense, “If I’m not the first to draft a catcher, I want to be the last” being one of the few gems; the logic being when your fantasy league only necessitates a single catcher, why jump early for one when his equivalent will be still sitting there five rounds later? Fill out the rest of your roster first! Searching for undervalued catchers in anticipation for my upcoming drafts, I thus stumbled across Yan Gomes – a player who is equally overlooked back in reality. Look for that to change during 2014.
As put by Baseball Prospectus, “Gomes’ career before 2013 could be used in a spy textbook on becoming anonymous.” Sent packing by the Blue Jays alongside utility man Mike Aviles in a November 2012 trade for reliever Esmil Rogers, Gomes initially started his time with the Indians organization in Triple-A Columbus. He wouldn’t stay there long; with incumbent back-up Lou Marson sidelined by injuries and the ever-increasing fragility of starter Carlos Santana regularly moving him off the position, Gomes eventually stepped in to 88 games for Cleveland during the season, starting 79. Playing more than ever before, the first ever Brazilian-born MLB player shined, though in the relative obscurity inherent to playing home games at Progressive Field (Cleveland ranked 14th in AL attendance, drawing only 19,419 fans to their average home game in 2013).
A crucial cog in the lineup that propelled Cleveland to a AL Wild-Card berth, the then-25 year old hit .294/.345/.481 with 11 HR in just 322 PA. His second-half showing was especially significant in pushing his club to the playoffs; Gomes raked to the tune of .319/.383/.485, good enough for a 147 wRC+ , a mark that tied him for 7th in the AL among players with 150+ plate appearances. Touted as a weak defensive catcher heading into the season, Gomes additionally threw out over 38% of would be base stealers (18 out of 47) – a figure that would have led the junior circuit had he played the few more games needed to qualify. Reports also indicated that he was a strong game-caller.
In just 88 games, Gomes had accrued a 3.7 WAR value by seasons end, and gone from the second guy in a Mike Aviles trade to displacing arguably the team’s best hitter from his position (Jason Kipnis is muttering somewhere out there). Not bad for a 26 year old in his first extended stint of playing time. So with Carlos Santana transitioning to third base (or first, or DH, just somewhere off catcher) and Gomes’ mini-breakout landing him the full-job behind the dish for the upcoming season, why are we not talking about the Brazilian more?
While his 2013 BABIP of .342 would suggest some element of regression is coming, the 2014 ZiPS, Steamer and Oliver projections all predict Gomes to hit around .260 (.259, .260, and .261 respectively), a more than serviceable number for a catcher. Similarly, his 2013 HR/FB rate of 12.4%, while above average, wasn’t so dramatic that his power could be perceived as fluky. Even building in some offensive decline, Gomes’ defensive skills will still make him a very valuable player to Cleveland going forward, even if his under the radar production continues to be nationally ignored.
Cleveland won’t be complaining anyway, and neither will Gomes. Nor will I, when I snag him in every last fantasy draft I participate in this spring.