Since the Toronto Blue Jays first made the call to bring up center fielder Anthony Gose, I have been quite skeptical of the decision. I have doubted the possibility that Gose will achieve any semblance of success in the majors at just 21 years of age. Though he possesses outstanding tools, Gose lacks the polish necessary for even modest success in the big leagues. For me, the bar was set quite low for Gose, and thus far, he hasn’t exceeded those low expectations.
I have three primary concerns with Anthony Gose. The first concern involves his inability to hit the ball hard, which manifests in an overabundance of ground balls and an extreme lack of line drives and fly balls. From Prospect Power:
His hitting issues are beyond skin-deep, though. Gose’s .294 average is a misrepresentation of his true hitting ability. Cashman Field in Las Vegas is known for having a hard infield – the ball shoots through the infield incredibly fast, often turning routine ground balls into base hits to the outfield. This playing surface has been of benefit to Gose, who has turned weak grounders into base hits and smacked hard choppers over the head of the third baseman, choppers that would be an easy out in most other parks.
Note that the .294 average refers to his average in Las Vegas when Prospect Power on Anthony Gose was first published at the end of June. Gose has indeed carried his tendency to hit grounders into his major league career, though the advanced pitching he’s faced in the big leagues has perhaps exacerbated this issue. Through 60 plate appearances, Gose has hit over 70% of balls in play on the ground, whereas league average is approximately 44%. Ground balls produce the fewest runs per out, and since Gose has an extreme tendency to hit the ball into the ground, he’s been a horrific run producer with the bat.
A second issue with Gose pertains to pitch recognition. A particular at-bat comes to mind when discussing this issue. It came against Trevor Bauer, soon-to-be Arizona Diamondback, of the Reno Aces. Bauer is a top-notch prospect – facing him in AAA is about as great a test you can present to a young hitter. Gose began the at-bat quite well, working the count 3-0 on some tough inside fastballs and a changeup. Then things got interesting. Bauer threw a fastball down the middle with Gose taking all the way. He then struck out looking on two straight breaking balls. Such at-bats have been relatively common for Gose this year. He has trouble picking up the breaking ball, and seemingly even more trouble making contact with it. His strikeout rate, already rather high as he strikes out in 21.3% of his plate appearances, would be astronomical if delivered a steady diet of major league breaking balls.
Indeed, his strikeout rate has been astronomical in his limited time in the major leagues. Gose had difficulty with breaking balls in a league where breaking balls don’t break all that much. That difficulty has turned into an extreme vulnerability in the major leagues. Gose has had most trouble with any pitch that drops: sliders, curveballs, changeups, and sinkers have all been particularly troublesome for Gose, who has struck out in 35% of his plate appearances.
His inability to track breaking pitches has manifested in a very poor in-zone contact rate; Gose makes contact on just 77.3% of pitches in the strike zone, a very poor rate considering his inability to hit for power. Players with similar rates (e.g., Josh Hamilton, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Dan Uggla, Mike Napoli, Mark Reynolds, and Carlos Pena) are all well-known sluggers. A slap-hitter should not be so poor at making contact on pitches in the strike zone.
Gose’s left/right splits further suggest that he is not yet ready for the call. His performance against left-handed pitching has been abysmal, posting a .182/.299/.227 slash line. If he were an older prospect, perhaps it would be ideal to bring him up in a platoon situation. However, he’s just 21 and considerably younger than the average PCL player. There is no evidence to suggest that he has plateaued in his development and Gose deserves every opportunity to succeed as an everyday player.
In his limited time in the major leagues, Gose has actually performed better against left-handed pitching. In just 15 plate appearances, Gose has hit .385/.385/.538. However, his strikeout rate is approximately the same against both right-handed and left-handed pitching, so it is unlikely that his early success against left-handed pitching is indicative of anything but a small sample size.
Gose has done a few things well since his call-up. He has used his speed to create runs both by wreaking havoc on the base paths and by bunting for base hits. However, since his speed is a tool and not a skill, it will not get better with major league seasoning. Just because Gose can create runs with his feet does not mean that he deserves a spot on a major league roster – put simply, Gose needs work on his bat skills before he can be an asset to a major league ball club.
It is likely that Anthony Gose will be a solid major league player one day. He will play outstanding center field defense, and he will create runs with his feet. However, he will need to learn to drive the ball and how to hit a breaking ball before he ever achieves success in the major leagues. Of course, one way to expedite this process is to get Gose out of Las Vegas, where breaking balls simply do not break. This might be the Blue Jays’ rationale with calling up Gose, at least until they can find a new AAA affiliate, which could happen as soon as next season. Without exposure to breaking pitches, Anthony Gose will not develop as a hitter. Perhaps the Blue Jays were acting reasonably when they called up Gose, after all.
Nevertheless, my original assessment of Anthony Gose from late June still stands. He is an extremely flawed hitter with little power and a complete inability to hit breaking pitches. The Toronto Blue Jays hope that time in the major leagues will be more beneficial for his development than playing in Las Vegas.
Charles Davis is a baseball writer for RantSports.com with a specific focus on the Toronto Blue Jays, their farm system, and prospects league-wide. Read his articles here and follow him on Twitter @CPDavis90.