Thursday, November 13, 2014

Blue Jays Upgrade Roster, Say Good-Bye to Gose

Buffalo Bisons photo

   The Blue Jays closed the door on the Anthony Gose era late Wednesday night, swapping the outfielder to the Tigers for Second Baseman Devon Travis, named Detroit's top prospect this week by Baseball America.

The athletic Gose was taken by the Phillies in the 2nd round of the 2008 draft.  The Blue Jays had their eyes on him long before they swapped first baseman Brett Wallace for him in 2010, after the Phils had traded him to Houston.

   Despite some highlight reel defence in centrefield, Gose has never fully developed his hit tool, hitting .234/.301/.332 in over 600 MLB plate appearances since 2012.  With the emergence of Dalton Pompey, and the versatility of Kevin Pillar, Gose was deemed surplus by the Blue Jays.  Truth be told, we have thought that Pillar would most the most likely to be dealt.  Banished to Buffalo after an ill-timed temper dugout temper tantrum, Pillar laid waste to International League pitching for July and almost all of August before being recalled.  With offense at a premium when the Jays struggled without much of the heart of their batting order through an injury epidemic mid-summer, Pillar could have both gained more MLB experience and helped contribute to the Jays anemic attack.  We're not suggesting that he could have salvaged the season, but that the club kept him in exile on the Niagara Frontier for two months spoke volumes about what we thought the organization thought of him.

   The caveat with Travis being the Tigers top prospect is that they have a very thin minor league system. With Ian Kinsler firmly ensconced at second, Travis' path to the bigs appeared to be blocked, and the club was going to try him in centrefield during the Arizona Fall League season, but he underwent surgery for a sports hernia in September.

   Here's part of BA's evaluation of his skills:

 Travis’ tools aren’t flashy, but scouts come to appreciate him the more they see him because of his ability to hit, manage the strike zone and play smart, fundamentally sound baseball in all areas of the game. He can turn in times a tick slower out of the box, but he’s an average runner underway who moves well going first to third, with sharp instincts that make him an efficient basestealer. He’s an adequate defender at second base who makes the routine plays and is smooth on the double play pivot.

   Playing at AA Erie this past season, Travis missed six weeks with an oblique injury, which brought down his line somewhat, but he still hit a solid .298/.358/.460 for the season.  Barring a knockout spring, the next step for him likely is at least a few months at AAA Buffalo in 2015.   We are not necessarily looking at an all-star here, but what the Blue Jays likely will end up with is a solid bat that can play at second, plugging a hole in the lineup that has plagued the club for several years. 

   Because we've been meaning to find a way to work this into a post, and this is about as good a time as we can think of, here's what Jason Parks, formerly of Baseball Prospectus, now scouting complex league players in Arizona, had to say about scouting second basemen:

  The first question to ask when scouting a second baseman is, "Can he play shortstop?" The most skilled athletes start up the middle and move to the corners when their skills diminish or get exposed by the level of competition.  If a lower-level talent is already playing second base, the burden of success has shifted to the bat - and that's a heavy burden.
  A second baseman has to have first-step quickness and a good glove, but the arm doesn't have to be plus to play the position.  Negotiating the double play requires good footwork, body control, and co-ordination, so the body needs to be athletic and project that way throughout the player's development.  Second base requires more athleticism than a corner spot, but it doesn't require a shortstop's fast-twitch skills, so if the bat plays, the glove stays.  To put it another way, take a shortstop, subtract the soft hands, strong arm, and range, and you have second baseman.
   Travis is not a converted shortstop.  Except for a 3 game trial in Erie's outfield, he has been a second baseman since the Tigers drafted him out of Florida State, where he also played second.  

   As for Gose, we are sad to see an athlete with his physical skills go, but he truly had become expendable.  With the departure of Austin Jackson via trade last season, and the likely loss of Torii Hunter to free agency, the Tigers have become thin in terms of outfield depth.  Struggles with pitch recognition led to a K/BB rate that left Gose unable to use his speed on the bases - and to be honest, we found Pompey, while probably a step slower than Gose, to be be a smarter and better baserunner. 

   The upside for the Jays is that they have upgraded their roster without giving up an integral part of the big league roster.  With the depth of prospects in the Blue Jays system, Travis doesn't necessarily become an upper-level member, but the deal has caused a rewrite in our upcoming Top 10 list.

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