As the Montreal Expos force-fed prospect after prospect to the major-league team the man who was their hitting coach, Tommy Harper, would often emerge after spending extra time in the batting cage, shake his head and say: “There’s a lot goes on in this game. A lot.”
It was not a statement of profound philosophy. It was just one of those things about baseball that has always rung true, often as a result of a tug of war between the normal accruement of baseball I.Q. and the exuberance of youth.
And a lot has gone on with Anthony Gose in 2012, including survival.
Back in spring training, the then-21-year-old outfielder spoke bravely about shaving 70 strikeouts off his total of 137, reasoning with his speed those added balls in play would make him an even more potent offensive player. It hasn’t quite worked out that way: in 136 games at both Triple-A and in the majors, he’d whiffed 135 times going into Wednesday’s game against the Seattle Mariners. But there’s something different about his second stint with the big-league team, a different batting stance to be sure but a greater sense of awareness at the plate. The plan – a chance to win a spot as the opening-day left-fielder and lead-off hitter – now seems real.
General manager Alex Anthopoulos mostly made broad brush strokes as he spoke of 2013 before Wednesday’s game (Gose’s first start in left, and Adeiny Hechavarria’s second start at second base), saying that payroll would rise while making clear he is still mulling over Rajai Davis’s option and what type of offer to extend to Carlos Villanueva. Anthopoulos spoke about improving “aggregate” offence next year, leaving it to others to wonder whether Yunel Escobar or Colby Rasmus might have more trade value than is immediately obvious in a thin free-agent market.
Whether it’s in left field or centre, the organization doesn’t have many players with Gose’s skill-set. First base coach Torey Lovullo, who knows his way around player development, says Gose’s vision, anticipation and instincts are “as good as I’ve seen in any young base stealer.” Gose is a quick study in pre-game preparation, Lovullo says. He also knows how to watch the game from the dugout. “Anthony has definite thoughts about how he wants to attack things,” said Lovullo.
Gose did not cut down on his strikeouts this season, but the man who was his hitting coach at Triple-A, Chad Mottola, says there’s more to the story. Gose was a “slap hitter,” when he joined the Blue Jays in a trade with the Houston Astros. That’s not what the Blue Jays wanted him to be, but as part of a major overhaul, Mottola said they gave Gose “a kind of survival swing,” for games, one which started with the bat on the shoulders, which allowed him to see the ball longer but also made the swing naturally late. It was short-term statistical trade-off for long-term intellectual gain. In the meantime, Mottola said, the pair worked step by step in the batting cage developing a stance that now begins with Gose in a lower crouch, hands slightly higher. They were ready to take it out for a spin … exactly at the time Gose received his first call-up. Results were, ah, mixed.
Gose admits the swing is not a finished product, but he will also tell you he is growing into it. “The feel of the swing will tell you if you have it,” said Gose. “I can take a swing and know that it was what I was looking for, even if I don’t get a hit. Eventually, you feel that if you keep that swing, that you’ll start squaring up a few balls.”