Thursday, May 9, 2013

Go-Go: The Other Cargo

  Only a month into the 2013 regular season for Major League Baseball and quite a few players are turning heads with their eye-popping play.  Clay Buchholz, Matt Harvey (who shouldn't be a surprise... read up on your prospect rankings in years prior), Coco Crisp, Chris Davis, Shin-Soo Choo, Justin Upton, etc.  However, none of them compare to the success of a certain outfielder in Milwaukee.  No, it's not Ryan Braun (who does have a solid line so far this year: .314, 7, 24).  It's Cargo... wait, I thought he was in Colorado.  The other one: Carlos Gomez, ladies and gentlemen.

  The rise of Go-Go as a not only solid, but now top-of-the-line hitter (so far) this season should be getting much more attention out of cheese country.  Not because he's playing better than Upton, Choo, or even Davis, but because of how much he has ameliorated his play to get to where he is today. Gomez is hitting .364 this season with 6 bombs, 14 RBI's, 22 runs scored, and 7 bases swiped.  A few of his rankings so far this season in the National League:

AVG: 1st
HR: 20th
R: 10th
SLG: 1st
OBP: 4th
SB: 5th
3B: 1st

  That's one heck of an all around performance to start a season.  You also have to take into account that he's grown into an elite defender in center field.  Will he continue on this pace?  Who knows?  But there isn't a team in baseball that wouldn't want this guy right now, something that hasn't always been the case...

The New York Mets took a shot on a fast kid from the DR in 2002 and brought Gomez to the United States to play ball as a 16 year old.  He didn't start playing until he turned 18 in 2004 where he joined the Kingsport Mets in the Appalachian League.  Gomez would soon be promoted to the GCL Mets in the Gulf Coast League.  He finished the season with a .281 average and stole 17 bases in 57 games.  Certainly not the Bryce Harper instant success story, but promising for an 18 year-old.  In the following season, the young outfielder was placed on the roster for the Hagerstown Suns (A ball) in the South Atlantic League.  His speed once again showed as this time around he swiped 64 bases in 120 games while hitting .275.  After the 2005 season, Gomez was beginning to become a name in the Mets farm system.  John Sickles of said of Gomez prior to the 2006 season, "Gomez has very good tools, particularly speed, but is raw enough that I can't rate him higher."  Higher, in Sickles' case, was higher than 5th in the organization, where he had Gomez ranked going into the 2006 season.

  Gomez didn't disappoint his penultimate season in the minors with the Binghamton Mets (AA ball) in the Eastern League in 2006.  He upped his average to .281 and still stole 41 bases in 120 despite moving up another level.  Sickles once again promoted Gomez in his rankings to 4th in the Mets' organization and once again restated the "great tools" he possessed.  In his last stint in the minors, Carlos played with the New Orleans Zephyrs (AAA ball) in the Pacific Coast League.  Through 36 games, Carlos was hitting .286 with 17 bases stolen and 24 runs scored.  He was currently at the top of the PCL in stolen bases and was ranked third on Sickels' list.

  Then came the call up to the majors on May 13th.  A 21 year-old, Gomez was the youngest player in the National League at the time of his promotion.  Playing alongside Carlos Delgado and Carlos Beltran, he was nicknamed "Little Carlos" during his 2007 time with the Mets, something that wouldn't stick with him.  However, things didn't start off for a bang as many in the Mets organization would have hoped.  He hit only .232 in 58 games.

  As the season came to a close, a lot of questions swirled around whether or not the Mets would continue the Carlos Gomez experiment and give him a starting job in 2008.  The Mets had already acquired Ryan Church, and the demand for the young speedster wasn't as high as it had once been.  Would he stay in the majors or be back down in AAA?  They never got that far.  In the blockbuster deal of the off-season.  The Mets shipped Gomez, along with pitchers Phillip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and Deolis Guerra, to the Minnesota Twins for the southpaw Cy Young winner Johan Santana.

Gomez was renowned for smelling his bat.
  Now suiting up with a new team, Gomez was given a shot he probably wouldn't have had while in New York: playing for a contending team while starting.  Gomez played 153 games for Minnesota in a season that came down to the last game to decide their fate in which the team lost the Chicago White Sox.  Gomez hit .258 with 33 stolen bases, an improvement over his first season with New York and was given the nickname Go-Go by Twins manager Ron Gardenhire; this time it would stick.  He also became the 3rd youngest player to hit for the cycle in a mid-season game verses the White Sox and led the league in bunt hits with 30.

  With a mild level of success, Gomez was given another shot in 2009 as the Twins lead off man and starting center fielder.  He didn't exactly deliver the goods to a team that was the best in years offensively.  However, Twins fans will most remember him for his game-winner run scored in game 163 against the Detroit Tigers as a pinch runner:

  Things ended for Gomez with Minnesota when he shipped out to Milwaukee prior to the 2010 season for shortstop J.J. Hardy.  After two seasons of sub-100 games played, sub-.250 AVG, and sub-20 stolen bases, things seemed to click for Gomez in Milwaukee in 2012.  Gomez hit .260, smashed 19 HR, stole 37 bases, and showed great improvement in his fielding and led the league in various categories from centerfield.  So coming into 2013, did we expect to see a better version of the Carlos Gomez?  Yes.  However, he's exceeded anyone's expectations: the Mets, the Twins, even the Brewers.  Can someone who's struggled so much in the past keep this kind of play up?  We'll have to use the wait-and-see approach to find out.

   So far, I think we can only describe this season as one of many surprises.  The Colorado Rockies leading the NL West.  The Royals are actually relavent.  Miguel Cabrera is playing well, wait... forget that one.  Carlos Gomez is only a part of a long list of stories from this season.  And unlike basketball where we watch teams like the Heat hand another playoff a 35+ point loss, or in tennis where we can nearly always predict the final four, this is one of the things I love about baseball.  It's unpredictable, as much as we'd like to think we can predict it.

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