Hours. I spent hours looking at the rosters of each Giants affiliate and guessing who the team might call up. I factored in the December Rule 5 Draft, giving the edge to prospects who would likely need to be added after the season anyway. I forgot that the Giants usually call up fewer prospects every year than I expect, but I’m sure I’ll remember that next year hey a butterfly! Anyway, I’m not sure what we were talking about, but I was pretty sure that I had the Giants’ September call-ups pegged.
And then came Roberto Gomez.
Gomez was a non-roster invitee this February, and he was interesting enough to merit a mention in a list of the Giants’ most interesting NRIs. He wasn’t as interesting as, say, Neil Ramirez or Bryan Morris, but he was someone to watch. He was a starter out of the Rays’ system who missed all of 2015 and 2016 because of injury, but apparently the Giants saw something in him, so they stashed him in Triple-A. Where he was okay. And that’s the end of that story.
Except the Giants saw something even more than we could have possibly anticipated. They called Gomez up, designating Carlos Moncrief (and our hopes of a position player pitching) for assignment to make room. While it’s not surprising that the Giants made room for a reliever they wanted to take a look at, it is surprising that the reliever in question isn’t Tyler Rogers or D.J. Snelten. Apparently, the Giants were more worried that Gomez was going to be snatched away in the offseason.
I guess this means we should pay more attention to Gomez.
Start with the obvious: Gomez’s 8.2 K/9 rate would be a career best, by far. It’s not a great strikeout rate, but it’s better than Gomez used to offer before Tommy John surgery, when he was a half-decent prospect. He’s always thrown hard, and there was hope that his lanky 6’5” frame would offer some strikeout projection. It’s not just more relief appearances that have helped him miss more bats — he struck out 8.2 batters per nine innings as a starter and as a reliever.
What the Giants are most intrigued with, though, is how Gomez has gotten much stronger as the year has progressed. Remember that he hadn’t pitched in a minor-league game since 2014, and even then hadn’t thrown more than eight games at a level higher than Class-A as a professional. Then the Giants challenged him by placing him all the way in Triple-A, which was certainly aggressive for a pitcher coming back from injury. The initial struggles probably shouldn’t have been much of a surprise.
Since the start of July, though, we have this:
Of the 222 batters to face him in the Pacific Coast League since the start of July, just three have homered. That’s a nifty rate, and you can see why the Giants would be interested in that.
I found just one recent scouting report online, and the good news is that it has Gomez throwing 96 mph regularly, with the ability to touch 98. That’s what we saw in his major league debut, so it wasn’t just adrenaline providing the velocity. The bad news is that the scouting report is less than fawning.
Struggles to put away batters w/ high velo. Straight velocity at the bottom of the zone is a present-day flyball entree to batters. Repeatedly gave up hard contact.
That was his last appearance of June, though. It’s possible that Gomez fixed something/somethings, and now that velocity is helping him retire hitters instead of being a curiosity. But his debut also gave us a hint that his fastball doesn’t have to get swings and misses just because it’s quick. Here’s the first swing through of his career:
Pretty gnarly, right? Except here’s what happens when Buster Posey calls for the same pitch and Gomez nails the location:
Posey doesn’t move his glove at all, and it’s not like the ball is right over the plate. But it’s a far too comfortable swing on a 97-mph fastball with two strikes. It’s possible that a lack of movement will hurt Gomez.
It’s also possible that I’m pretending to know about baseball after watching two pitches. So you’re right to be skeptical that we can tell anything just yet.
Except we can tell this: The Giants didn’t want to lose Gomez. They signed him for a reason, and they felt that the second half of his season made them look smart. He came back from the professional abyss to throw 96 and get hitters out at an advanced level in which he had no experience. Now he’s on the major league roster, and he probably isn’t leaving the 40-man roster any time soon.
The biggest question is if the Giants see Gomez as a starter, which is what he’s been for most of his career, or as a reliever, which is what his repertoire suggests might be a better fit. It turns out that Albert Suarez comp from before the season (low-strikeout, high-velocity arm from Tampa Bay’s organization) might not be too far off. I’d err on the side of converting him into a full-time reliever, but I usually do.
Most of us weren’t expecting it, but Roberto Gomez is suddenly a September player to watch. It’s one of the worst seasons in franchise history, especially relative to expectations, so let’s watch this dude throw in the upper nineties and justify the organization’s confidence in him. There isn’t a ton to watch in the coming month, but I’ll enjoy this, at least.