The Next No 1?

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The story behind how I made friends with a scouting development employee of the rival New York Yankees will make a great piece one day. One of the things we discussed early on was the difference between reality and perception in terms of prospect lists and how teams view them. Without divulging any secrets, he told me some of the names that I should see and who he wouldn’t be surprised if I ended up liking.

Off to Tampa

So up to Tampa I went to see their rookie league team take on the Tigers. That day I took notice of quite a few Yankee sluggers. The towering corner Anthony Garcia has made it up to High A. The well-built corner Marcos Cabrera hasn’t yet but will be just fine when he does. The smooth Cuban shortstop Alex Vargas may need to quicken the internal clock a tick or two (maybe not) but he looks to be a star in the early stages.

As an Orioles fan, this presents a thought process steering towards anxiety. But then I realize that this handful, much like another we discussed earlier in the summer will be dealt at whatever July deadline corresponds with their rise to AA or higher. That way of doing business works for them. The Yanks trade a lot of their good prospects early in development and don’t look back because there will be major league stars for them to replace them with and they’re willing to pay the freight in both cash and lost opportunity.

Not exactly the easiest set of circumstances for my friend to deal with, but contending consistently is the objective and they get it done. The player who caught my eye the most that day won’t be taking that path. Instead, he’ll be pointed towards a run-producing spot in the mid minors, and then in the Bronx. I have a special affinity for the position of catcher and this young player takes the defensive fundamentals to a level I haven’t seen often in my years of detailed baseball watching. I’m eager for more people to know about the future star in Venezuelan Antonio Gomez.

A Deeper Look

The stats and performance tell a large part of the story, but for someone who forces you to take notice, every second they’re on the field is bringing much more to the table. The intangibles are as loud as the tools. I saw elements of leadership and the kind of attitude that helps brush away and breeze past the adversity he’s going to face climbing the ladder.

Nothing personified what I see as the total package in a prospect more than a moment I saw, but couldn’t catch on camera. During the national anthem before a game in Bradenton after his call-up I was in the seats close to the dugout looking at his team standing in order on the 3rd baseline, hand on hearts. One step in front of the extended group was Gomez, at 19 physically placing himself in a leadership position. It was a striking and memorable image to see. He was batting in the .160’s at the time. I believe by now it’s nearer to .200 but not quite. These aren’t the best ways to measure him. But if you must, read on to see that his start in the US this year went .167 in June, .283 in July, and .361 in August as he found his feet.

His swing is not extraordinary, and in a lineup with players like Garcia, 2021 1st rounder Trey Sweeney and star in the making Jasson Dominguez doesn’t stand out. But he bats 3rd, 4th, or 5th for a reason. What does catch the eye watching him live and seeing his successes on video is an obvious core balance and stability. When Gomez is right, his lower body post-stride is stiff and straight up and down, almost anchored to the ground. I’m estimating the contact ability and strike zone recognition skills that are already very good will prove themselves elite over time. Which is fitting because the catching and throwing skills are comfortably there today. He throws the ball behind a runner creeping off first base with such fire, accuracy, and gathered torque that it’s astounding. For someone with his age and relative inexperience at these levels, the confidence in his arm is warranted. I just can’t believe that more Yankee fans aren’t drooling daily at this guy. I’ve seen as many games as I can with him and I’ve seen all the catching plays carried out with ease and a high chin.

The pop-up over the mound. The plate blocking plays to end an inning. The barehand pickup and fire to 1st on a dribbler. It’s in many ways machine-like how well his movements fit the profile for what a modern catcher needs to do. Pitchers in trouble or can’t locate? Gomez pops up like a spring and is on the mound talking in any language and showing positive body language. If an inning ends on a strikeout, watch out because he’s going to pop up the same way to get that high-five from the guy who threw it. Gomez is first out of the dugout for a teammate’s clutch homer every time. The “it” factor is always on display. The energy is always high and positive. He’s helped a good Tampa team get even better.

The more I see him being the best teammate and player combo at such a young age, the more an Adley Rutschman comparison is apt. Sure they’re different in age by tier and role in their respective team’s pecking order too but both are leaders at backstop so it’s more apples to apples than it may seem. And if I can compare a guy to the sport’s number 1 overall prospect, well then shouldn’t I be able to see him in the same light?

I can tell that athletically he’s fast enough out of the crouch to just make the defensive package near perfect. There’s going to be a learning curve to round out any rough edges but he is not raw, he’s real. Scouts from other organizations have taken notice and the ones I’ve talked to are open with praise. To me, that’s the confirmation that my hunch needs.

Delaying writing this through his playoff series seems wise, even if it’s only through one game. In the opener at Bradenton, Gomez was in the lineup batting 3rd. He broke up a tight pitcher’s duel in the 6th inning, hammering an Adrian Florencio heater into the left-field bleachers. In the bottom of the inning, he made the 1-0 lead slightly more comfortable nailing Endy Rodriguez stealing from 2nd after Endy got a quality jump. The throw was a laser down the line right into Roberto Chirinos’ waiting glove. I was awestruck. Later in the 8th he dropped his hands and slowed his swing down to drive a pitch into short center, perfectly placed for a 2-RBI single. In a low-scoring and relatively well-pitched game he had all 3 RBI for his team and threw out the first guy trying to wander farther than scoring position. What more can this guy do to absolutely demand attention?

Looking to the Future

I don’t know exactly how it works. How someone like Marco Luciano or Wander Franco, Soto, or International guys on that level really start to be noticed or develop hype. But now is the time for this guy to get it. Antonio Gomez the hitter and catcher are so real that soon it won’t just be Yankee supporters and minor league nuts that know him, it’ll be everybody. And as an O’s fan seeing him in person, I know that I’ve got something to worry about. I can say with confidence that out of all the players I’ve seen this season across any level he’s been far and away the best non-Oriole. Masyn Winn the pitcher/SS on the Cardinals is one. Jared Jones and Luis Ortiz, a pair of Bradenton RHPs also brought enough strikeout sizzle for me to bet on them too. I saw Cavaco, Sabato, and Rosario the future Twins among other prospects. But nobody caught my eye and forced me to notice all the big and little parts of their game like Gomez. Buy all the baseball cards, snap the selfies and beg for autographs young and old because there’s a superstar coming to your minor league town sometime soon and you’re going to enjoy your experience with Antonio Gomez.

Follow me on Twitter at @Eric_Birdland for more of my content. Don’t forget to check out our baseball podcast, Cheap Seat Chatter! We’ll see ya there!

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Main image credit Embed from Getty Images

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