Harvesting Opinion: Atlanta Braves–Mauro Gomez

Harvesting Opinion is a regular feature on Seedlings to Stars. Each week, a handful of FanSided’s MLB sites send S2S a question relating to their team’s minor league system, and we answer them in this space–each question gets one article devoted to answering it. In this way, we make sure we regularly get to discuss hot-button issues relating to the systems of every team, as we cover the teams in a regular, recurring cycle.

Please note that any statistics used may be a day or two out of date, as we prepare our answers over the course of a week.

In this edition, we tackle a question sent to us from our Atlanta Braves site Tomahawk Take:

What’s the real scoop on Mauro Gomez, the first baseman for the Braves AAA affiliate? He put up numbers in 2011 that rivaled what current Braves first baseman and ROY candidate Freddie Freeman put up as AAA MVPlast year, yet he has garnered little buzz. I’ve heard things like “no glove” and “beats up on cupcakes” (but really, everyone beats up on cupcakes, so what?), but have not seen him play myself.

Nathaniel says: Mauro Gomez certainly has pop in his bat. That said, it’s understandable why prospect analysts are less than enthused with his potential.

For one thing, he’s basically limited to first base, so the bar is set quite high for his offense. At age 27, he’s basically he’s as good as he’s going to get, so if his current offensive production doesn’t translate well enough to the big leagues to prove adequate for first, he’s basically stuck.

While he certainly has pop (24 HR, .522 SLG), Gomez strikes out nearly once per game (131 K in 135 G). That’s only going to get more problematic against big leaguers, and likely would preclude him from hitting much over .250. Furthermore, he walked just 38 times this season, which is especially alarming for such a power threat—IL pitchers likely were more careful to him than any other hitter in the Gwinnett lineup. Translate his strikeout-to-walk ratio to the majors, and it’s unlikely he can hold up such a demanding offensive position.

Running his Triple-A line through the Minor League Splits Major League Equivalency calculator, we get an equivalent .259/.300/.429 line with a 140/30 K/BB and 19 HR. That just doesn’t get it done, and it certainly isn’t of much use for a team that has Freeman around.

The one positive thing I can say about Gomez is that he did tighten up his strike zone in the second half of the season and went on a big tear, hitting .333/.398/.561. Translate that line to the bigs, and you get .282/.336/.458—basically, Carlos Lee’s 2011. If whatever adjustments he made late this season hold (and there’s no guarantee that it’s anything but statistical noise), then Gomez could be a decent MLB first baseman. Again, though, there’d be little use for him on the Braves roster unless they opted to carry an extra righty pinch-hitter on the bench.

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Wally says: Mauro Gomez has had a real nice minor league season, but his propensity to swing and come up empty is a huge red flag. Not only has he struck out 131 times in 135 games this season (as Nathaniel pointed out above), he’s also whiffed 713 times in 712 career games over 8 minor league seasons. That’s just not going to get it done against major league pitching.

As a Royals fan. I watched a 1B toil in the minor leagues for several seasons; one who had similar power to Gomez, is about the same age and had excellent plate discipline. We (Royals fans) all wondered why he wasn’t being given a chance, while the organization said he had a “slider speed bat.” That player’s name was Kila Ka’aihue, and after 326 PA in the major leagues I can say definitively that he was over-matched when facing big league pitching. Take away his ability to work the strike zone and draw a walk, and I can’t even fathom how bad he would have looked in the majors.

Clint Robinson, another Royals minor league 1B, is following in Kila’s footsteps and has put together a 2011 (0.326/.399/.533) and career minor league line (0.312/.379/.536) that dwarf what Mauro Gomez has done. C-Rob, 26, is also a year younger and has a very respectable 362-207 SO-to-BB rate in 560 minor league games. With Eric Hosmer locked in at 1B and Billy Butler signed long term at DH – not to mention both guys are younger than Clint – Robinson has zero chance to break into the big leagues for any length of time.

I point out the cases of Ka’aihue and Robinson not to belittle what Gomez has done this season, but rather to illustrate that there is no shortage of minor leagues 1B putting up strong slash stats with better plate discipline than that of Gwinnett’s current 1B. That is the primary reason he doesn’t receive a lot of attention. To generate buzz you have to stand out in your organization and against your peers on other teams–in too many areas Gomez comes up short statistically, not to mention on scouting reports.

Looking at what Freddie Freeman did last year, there is a difference if you put their AAA seasons side by side:

Freddie’s 2010: 519 PA, 0.319/.378/.521, 35 2B, 18 HR, 43 BB and 84 SO
Mauro’s 2011: 557 PA, 0.304/.356/.522, 34 2B, 24 HR, 38 BB and 131 SO
Mystery Man’s 2010: 476 PA, 0.341/.403/.504, 28 2B, 13 HR, 40 BB and 54 SO

As you can see, Freeman displayed much better plate discipline than Gomez. While their SLG was about the same, you can’t ignore the differences in BA and more importantly OBP. Of course you have to throw in the fact that Freeman was twenty when he put up that 2010 season for Gwinnett, as opposed to Gomez who did his at age 27. When you’re talking prospects, a 7 year age difference is an eternity.

But what about that stat line turned in by Mystery Man?

That represents the line another player who took the field at 1B for Gwinnett last season, Barbaro Canizares. If you don’t recognize the name, it’s likely because he was 30-years old last season. After hitting 0.325/.394/.482 in 6 minor league seasons with the Braves, Canizares is now playing in the Mexican League. For what it’s worth, Barbaro is hitting 0.396/.499/.653 for Guerreros de Oaxaca in 2011.

Despite all of his minor league success, the big Cuban was only given a 5 game, 21 PA audition in the big leagues back in 2009. His bat was vastly superior to that of Gomez, and I’d venture to guess it still is. The plate discipline is no contest.

Of course with Freeman holding down 1B in Atlanta for the foreseeable future (the next decade?) it’s really all moot.

For more on the Braves, check out Tomahawk Take.

Follow us on Twitter: Nathaniel (@stoltz_baseball), Wally (@thebaseballfish) and James (@JAYRC_MCB). You can also keep up to date with all things S2S by liking our Facebook page.

Topics: Atlanta Braves, Gwinnett Braves, Mauro Gomez

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  • BobHorton

    Hey guys! Thanks for the perspectives! Interesting you brought up Canizarez, as we actually debated his utility to someone as a DH before he was released by the Braves early this year. One big difference in the two players is HR power, as Barbaro basically showed none before his last season in AAA.

    Another nit in your analysis, at least from my perspective: There is no real difference in OBP between the two players, at least no difference being driven by plate discipline. The OBP differential is almost totally driven by BA and 15 points of BA is not a lot in my opinion, at least when both are over .300. Neither player showed much plate discipline. This is interesting in Freddie’s case, as he has shown much better discipline in the majors.

    Further comments follow in next post.

    Bob

  • BobHorton

    I do agree that the 7 year age differential is huge, and that Gomez will never project out at Freeman’s level (I’ve been a Freeman supporter since before it was cool to be one :) ). I also think that he has little utility for the Braves except as a RH bat off the bench, which the Braves are always in need of, even right now (the team can’t hit lefties, which may be their Achilles heel if they actually don’t choke their way out of the playoffs). Of course, everyone points out the late start that Ryan Howard got courtesy of Jim Thome at this point in

    the discussion!

    Finally, I’d be interested in your point-of-view as to Gomez’s trade value. Personally, I think that it will be largely driven by whether or not he can continue his second half 2011 trends into the first half of 2012. If he can, I think he’ll either be on the Braves roster (think Matt Diaz role, only at 1B) or be part of a trade.

    Sorry to be so long winded, and thanks a bunch for taking a look at Gomez!

    Bob

  • NathanielStoltz

    @BobHorton Interesting that you bring up the trade value issue, as we’ll be discussing that later this week in our response to our Phillies question. Basically, Wally’s examples of Robinson and Ka’aihue kind of answer that–if superior AAA hitters that are completely blocked haven’t been traded, it means there’s little meaningful interest in these sorts of players (whether that’s fair or not, that’s the way the industry seems to go these days), and often they’re best kept around in case the MLB 1B (in this case Freeman) winds up pulling a Kendrys Morales and missing a lot of time.

    As to your point on OBP–I wouldn’t bank on Gomez continuing to bat over .300 with this sort of strikeout rate, especially since he’s a career .277 hitter (and that’s largely in hitter-friendly parks). Canizares’ slash stats looked eminently more sustainable due to his superior contact skills.