This time last year, Yan Gomes was getting ready for spring training and wondering what the future would hold for him with his new team. Traded from Toronto along with Mike Aviles in exchange for Esmil Rogers, Gomes came to the Indians as a backup catcher with 43 MLB games under his belt and an uncertain path ahead of him.
What a difference a year makes.
The 26 year-old backstop played so well in 2013 that he elevated himself from backup to starter, and Terry Francona was so pleased with the Brazilian's performance that he named Gomes the full-time time starter months ahead of the 2014 season, relegating Carlos Santana to first base and DH (and maybe even some third base).
Gomes has a lot to look forward to this year: His wife is expecting the birth of their first child (a girl, in May). His country of birth is hosting the largest sporting event in the world (sorry guys, I'm English, the World Cup is the pinnacle), and he's entering his second season playing in the major leagues with some real stability for the first time in his career.
And he earned it at both ends of the game. Offensively, Gomes was terrific, posting better numbers than anyone expected:
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com
Gomes was especially effective after the All Star break: His second half batting line was .319/.383/.485, good enough for a 147 wRC+ that tied him for 7th in the AL among players with 150+ plate appearances. Over the course of the entire year he had a very impressive 131 wRC+, .359 wOBA, .188 ISO. Add in his top-flight defense and he was worth 3.7 WAR in little more than half a season's worth of games. Not too shabby for a guy expected to be a backup (if he made the team at all).
Now that he's scheduled to start for an entire season, it's understandable that Gomes' offensive numbers may decrease. Yan's 2013 BABIP was a rather high .342, indicating he could be due for some regression this year. However, even if his batting average drops to around .260, that still makes him one of the most valuable catchers in the league. The 2014 ZiPS, Steamer and Oliver projections all predict Gomes reaching that level (.259, .260, and .261 respectively). His 2014 OPS is estimated to dip from .826 to around .750, which is still a far better figure than most catchers achieved in 2013.
Even if his offensive numbers are slightly lower this year, I could live with it, because his offensive talent isn't even the best part of his game: We all love the Yanimal for his defense.
What first caught my eye when watching Gomes was his incredible presence and authority behind the plate. He was a defensive boss, throwing out 20 of 49 would-be base thieves, a 41% rate (league average in 2013 was 26%). In comparison, Santana gunned down just 18% of attempted steals, third-worst in the AL. Gomes also racked up 65 assists, tied for the second most by any AL backstop with over 600 innings (only Salvador Perez had more in the AL with 71, but he did catch 400+ more innings). Gomes laid down a marker as the best defensive catcher on the roster, and one of the finest in the club's recent history.
If Gomes' offensive numbers fall to an average level this year, his superb defensive skills will still make him a very valuable player. His ability to control the running game brings an element the Indians simply don't have when Santana is behind the plate. Tribe fans should be smiling all year long.
Boa sorte, Yan.