Craig Goldstein takes a closer look at a highly regarded prospect who stumbled in 2012 and what that means going forward
When I was young I knew everything
Learning to anticipate the struggles of a rookie is a difficult thing to do. I watch prospects fail every year. Some of them with obvious flaws that get exploited, and others who are seemingly prepared but just don't perform. Yet I continue to believe in many of the prospects and am surprised when they fail. This series will look at prospects who stumbled out of the blocks and what a difficult 2012 means going forward. Please note that these will not be all encompassing looks, but merely identifying some aspects of their respective games that may have caused trouble and what I think of them going forward. Today's subject: Anthony Gose.
[Not] A punk who rarely took advice
The scouting report on Gose has long been that he has three advanced tools: Speed, Defense and Arm. After that...it's all a work in progress. His hit tool has been called into question and it's fair to wonder if he'll ever hit more than .250 at the major league level. What no one can question is his willingness to learn and to accept instruction. In his first full year in the minors (2009) Gose had a BB% of 6%. In his last two seasons he has been averaging right around 10%, showing his ability to refine his strike zone. Gose still remains a bit of a hacker who has average power in his repertoire, but seem to make the age-old trade off of contact for power. In 2011, Gose broke out at Double-A, hitting .253/.349/.415 in the Eastern League. That slash line might not jump off the page for you, but he cranked 16 home runs and stole 69 bases in Double-A showcasing his power/speed combination while playing in a pitcher friendly league. At 21 years old, Gose began 2012 in Triple-A, where he drastically improved his batting average, though much of that can be attributed to the hitters haven that is Las Vegas. What Gose was able to do in Triple-A was trim his strikeout rate from a scary 26% to a more palatable (though still not preferable) 21% while maintaining a 10% walk rate. As discussed the trade off for this was a drop in home runs from 16 to 5, despite the much better hitting environs. All this is to say - Gose came to baseball a raw player, and in some senses, very much remains one. However, he's shown the ability to make more contact and refine his approach, giving us hope that he has the ability to adapt at the upper levels.
What made us think that we were wise?
In a prospect comparison prior to the 2012 season I looked at Kansas City's Wil Myers and today's subject, Gose. I said that Myers was the better fantasy prospect given his all around skill set, despite coming off of a sub-par (for him) season. But I also said that Gose was the type of player who could win you a season almost by himself, and that he had the potential to put up a Jacoby Ellsbury 2011 style season. I still think he has the potential, but the reality is that he's highly unlikely to ever reach it. Gose's swing isn't natural, and while he's put a lot of work into it, he's unlikely to ever see a .300 batting average in his career. However, the reason I liked Gose so much was that he doesn't need to see .300 to be a useful or even well-above average fantasy player. Gose's average may be a bit of a drag, but he's got the type of speed to steal 60-70 bases in his prime, and he has the pop in his bat to hit 15-18 homers.
[H]e fell through the ice when [h]e tried not to slip
So, given all the good qualities that Gose has, what made him flop at the big league level? We talked about his progress in cutting down on his strikeout rate in Triple-A, but that disappeared and then some in the majors. He still walked at a 9% level, which is solid, but his strikeouts jumped from 21% in Triple-A to 31% in the bigs. But it's not so simple as making more contact for Gose as he struggled with any pitch that moved, recording a negative run value on every pitch type but the fastball per FanGraphs. Additionally, Gose had the unfortunate issue of making less contact on his swings outside the zone (O-Contact %) AND less contact on his swings inside the zone (Z-Contact %) than the league average. This could have been anticipated given Gose's age (21) and his history of contact trouble. But that the problems came mostly on breaking pitches insinuates that he could be having trouble identifying pitches, or that the stuff he's encountering at this level is too much to handle at the moment.
I cannot believe [h]e'd ever die for these sins
Dramatic as the header to this section is, I actually do believe that Gose could be undone by his struggles with major league quality pitches. That said, I don't believe he will be undone by that flaw. Despite his unnatural swing hindering his contact ability and batting average, Gose's speed, defense and arm are going to keep him in the majors for a long time, and not merely as a bench player. That means he will rack up the stolen bases - 15 in 2012 in only 189 plate appearances and a .303 OBP - and I think he could still find ways to improve himself. While watching a Toronto game this season I heard Gregg Zaun say "someone should tell Gose what they told me a long time ago...don't swing at anything that's not a fastball, and that really helped me." Whether that story is apocryphal or not, it remains another way that Gose could limit the negative qualities of his approach without actually improving his other attributes. I think at 21 he's still to young to preach that approach, I don't think we should view him as a finished product, but rather that the product we've seen so far is a floor for him.
I won't be held responsible
I feel less comfortable making a prediction about Gose than I do most prospects. I have disliked him as a prospect and written him off, only to pull a 180° turn and begin to love him for the secondary (fantasy) skills that could allow his (primary) fantasy skills to shine. I think Gose is at worst a speed demon who provides a bit of pop but struggles in average while being solid elsewhere. Think recent Cameron Maybin as a reference point. No, he hasn't been great, but if that's the worst you're getting, there's value there. Be careful not to overrate his upside, as I wouldn't expect a massive improvement in 2013 and think he may even start the season in the minor leagues.
Note: All statistics pulled from FanGraphs
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