Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Closer Look: Brandon Gomes

Because the Rays bullpen didn't have enough former Padres, the organization promoted Brandon Gomes from Durham to take the place of Jake McGee in the bullpen. He joins Adam Russell and Cesar Ramos, meaning 3/4ths of the return on Jason Bartlett is now in the Rays 'pen (Cole Figueroa, a second baseman, is hitting .253/.333/.349 with the Biscuits). Here's a closer look at Gomes:

The numbers: Gomes came over with perhaps the lightest pedigree but the strongest stats. A 17th-round pick out of Tulane University in 2007, he performed pretty much like you'd expect from a fifth-year senior in the low minors. He didn't walk many, but wasn't exactly overpowering hitters. He spent just six innings in short-season ball in his debut season, posting a 4-to-1 strikeout to walk ratio in low-A. Nice, but not really eye-popping for a 22-year-old.

He was back in Fort Wayne the following year, and in 56.2 innings put some more decent numbers. 7.1 K/9, 3.0 BB/9. Were a 23-year-old in low-A posting those numbers in the Rays system now, I wouldn't really think of him as a prospect. Nice organizational arm, probably never anything more. Gomes got a mid-season promotion to high-A Lake Elsinore... and morphed into a completely different pitcher, at least statistically.

In 28 innings down the stretch for the Storm, Gomes struck out 36 and walked just 6. It was good enough to get him to double-A San Antonio for 2009, where he struck out 100 in 72 innings, good for a 12.5 K/9. His walk rate was a career-high 3.5 per 9, but that's a number you can live with. For whatever reason (perhaps chiefly some good relief depth), San Diego didn't promote him to triple-A for 2010. So he just dominated the Texas League again, with 93 strikeouts and 21 walks in 72.1 innings.

For all his dominating numbers, Gomes was never his team's closer or even in the mix. He saved three games in 2009 and just one in 2010. With the Durham Bulls having lost most of their bullpen, including Winston Abreu and Dale Thayer, Gomes got a shot at the 9th inning. He racked up six saves, striking out 22 and walking 5 in 13.1 innings before his promotion.

The fastball: Gomes is hardly a big guy at 5-11/175, and with a slinging three-quarters arm slot, he doesn't get much of a downhill plane. He's not a heavy groundball pitcher, featuring about a 1.00 GO/AO in his career. Working out of the stretch, Gomes' delivery with his high leg kick could help his 89-91 mph heater appear faster.

He doesn't command it exceptionally well; he does a good job of generally working in the lower half of the strike zone but didn't show that he could consistently paint the corners. He pitches aggressively with his fastball, not afraid to challenge hitters inside. He got a few swings and misses with it but it was also solidly squared up a few times with the Bulls. It's not a dominating pitch by any means, but it's good enough to play in a major-league bullpen.

The splitter: In my opinion, this pitch is his best weapon. It's a mid-80s pitch with straight downward movement, not so different from Alex Cobb's split-change. He can throw against righties and lefties it in the dirt for a swing and a miss, and also showed that he can throw it inside to tie up lefties, which is important because I think lefties can get a pretty good look at his slider due to his delivery. But the splitter comes in disguised as a fastball before its late drop.

The slider: Gomes used this pitch more than I expected in his major-league debut last night. He threw seven sliders and just one splitter (GameDay says six and two but I believe they misclassified one; it was clocked at 73 mph and no way that was a split), but that could simply be that he had a better feel for the pitch. It's worth keeping an eye on going forward. Anyway, he adds and subtracts from his slider moreso than his other two pitches. Last night, it registered as low as 70 mph and as high as 79 mph.

It gets good depth and some decent sweeping action to it, but as you can guess by it's speed it's not a real sharp breaker. Against righties, he tries to start it toward the outside the corner and have it dive out of the zone to induce a chase, or he'll bury it in the dirt like his splitter. It's not as good a weapon against lefties, as it's not the sort of pitch he can effectively throw to the back leg. When he throws it to lefties, he tries to backdoor it for a called strike, and can run into problems if he doesn't get it far enough outside.

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So to summarize, while Gomes won't match his gaudy minor league strikeout numbers, his arsenal is absolutely good enough to succeed in a middle relief role. His ideal usage wouldn't have him facing a ton of lefties, but he's not a strict ROOGY. The important thing will be his walk rate. His stuff isn't good enough to just throw over the plate and challenge hitters, which is an approach that can work in the minors. Gomes might be shuttled back to Durham later in the season due to the numbers crunch, though if he shows enough there's a decent chance that Andy Sonnanstine would be #1 on the chopping block.

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