- Jerry Crasnick, ESPN.com MLB Sr. Writer
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MARYVALE, Ariz. -- Milwaukee center fielder Carlos Gomez can elicit some gasps when he lets it fly in batting practice. During a BP session at Maryvale Baseball Park on Saturday, Gomez launched a series of home runs high and far over the left-field fence through a stiff wind. It was an impressive enough display to make everybody stop and watch.
Through his first five big league seasons, Gomez never hit more than eight home runs (in 2011). But last year, he hit a career-high 19 to go along with 37 stolen bases; and teammate Ryan Braun said he won’t be surprised to see Gomez take a bigger step forward this season. Can you say "fantasy sleeper?”
“Tools-wise, he’s the most impressive athlete I’ve seen,” Braun said. “He runs a 6.3 60 [yard dash]. He could throw 95 [mph] off the mound as a pitcher. He’s 6-3 and 225 pounds, and he has huge power. And he leads the league in energy. He’s really impressive to watch on a daily basis.”
It’s taken a while. Gomez broke into pro ball as an amateur free agent with the Mets in 2002, but he just turned 27. New York sent him to Minnesota in the Johan Santana trade in 2008, and the Twins dealt him to Milwaukee for shortstop J.J. Hardy the following year.
Gomez has a terrific glove and defensive instincts to go along with his power and speed. His biggest problem, to this point, has been an inability to make contact with any degree of consistency. He has a .294 on-base percentage in the majors, with a mere 107 walks in 2,130 plate appearances. But Braun sees subtle indications that Gomez is improving. Bad as it was, his .305 OBP last year was his best in six seasons.
“If he ever puts it together with any consistency, he’s as good as anybody in baseball,” Braun said. “He really is. He’s actually gotten a little bit better every year, which shows that the aptitude is there. He’s slowly making adjustments, and he’s still young. He’s certainly heading in the right direction. He loves baseball. He plays with a lot of passion every day.”
Braun nevertheless expressed doubt recently when Gomez told him he ran a 3.7-second 40-yard dash on a track over the winter.
“I told him I didn’t believe it, and he said he wanted to bet me a significant amount of money,” Braun said, laughing. “We’re going to have to find a way to confirm that one.”
Third-base prospect Taylor Green will see time at the position before he heads for the World Baseball Classic with Team Canada. Career shortstop Alex Gonzalez made his spring debut at first base on Sunday, and former AL Rookie of the Year Bobby Crosby will get some at-bats in the Cactus League.
The Brewers also are intrigued by former Auburn standout Hunter Morris, who hit 28 home runs and slugged .563 to win the Southern League MVP award in 2012. He’ll probably begin the season with Triple-A Nashville, but the Brewers have been impressed with his maturity and even temperament during the development process.
“He’s a hitter, so we’ll try to see if he’s ready for it,” manager Ron Roenicke said of Morris. “He’s good mentally. He’s a pretty solid kid, so that helps.”
General manager Doug Melvin said last week that he’s keeping an open mind about upgrades. He’s more likely to wait and troll the waiver wire at the end of spring training than go out and sign an unemployed free agent in the Carlos Lee category.
The Brewers checked in on Juan Rivera and Lyle Overbay over the winter before the two veterans signed minor league deals with the Yankees and Red Sox, respectively. If Melvin concludes that the Brewers need to make a move at first, it's probably going to be something modest.
"We’ll look at our own guys for the first 10-12 games,” Melvin said, "and then we'll re-evaluate and see whether we can stay internally or if we need to go out and get somebody.”