One year makes huge difference for Gomes
Catcher experienced meteoric rise since last spring
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- There was no mystery to Yan Gomes' meeting with Indians manager Terry Francona at the beginning of spring. There were no introductions, decisions to be made about the World Baseball Classic or discussions about multiple positions.
This spring's meeting was more formality than fretting.
"It was a little easier," Gomes said. "And more smiles and laughs in there than last year."
That alone is evidence of the kind of year Gomes experienced in his first tour with the Tribe.
Gomes went from being the other guy acquired in the offseason trade that brought Mike Aviles over from the Blue Jays, to a budding star behind the plate for the Indians. He went from being a utility player in Toronto in 2012 to usurping Carlos Santana as Cleveland's unquestioned starting catcher by the second half of '13.
Gomes went from debating whether to play for Brazil in the World Baseball Classic last spring, to serving as Major League Baseball's ambassador for his home country this past winter. During his visit to Brazil in December, Gomes returned to his roots and was given a hero's welcome.
"It was pretty emotional," Gomes said. "They treated me extremely well. They welcomed me like -- it was weird -- like I was some kind of big deal. I was like, 'What the heck? I played with these guys.' It was really cool, though."
A lot can change in only one year's time.
The Indians envisioned a scenario in which Gomes developed into an everyday catcher for them at some point. That is one of the main reasons that Cleveland's scouts and bullpen coach Kevin Cash -- a former scout for the Blue Jays -- raved about Gomes and persuaded the Tribe's dealmakers to pry him from Toronto in the Nov. 3, 2012, trade that netted Aviles, in exchange for pitcher Esmil Rogers.
The Indians had no idea Gomes' rise would be so incredibly swift.
Consider that the catcher's ascension to the starting role came after he opened last season with Triple-A Columbus. It wasn't until an injury to backup Lou Marson -- non-tendered over the winter and now with the Phillies -- that Gomes got his chance.
"He got called up with some injuries," Francona said, "but he was able to play enough where we didn't have to send him down. And then he kept catching so well that he started taking over the duties and just ran with it. He made a big difference for us."
Gomes' Cleveland tale really began early in Spring Training last year.
After becoming Brazil's first Major League player with Toronto, Gomes suited up for Brazil two winters ago and provided the only run-scoring hit in a 1-0 win over Panama that punched the country's ticket to the Classic. In order to play in the tournament, though, Gomes would have had to leave Spring Training with the Indians for games in Japan.
Santana was going to be away playing in the Classic for the Dominican Republic, so Francona made it clear to Gomes that he would catch every other game if he remained in camp. That said, the manager also made it clear that they would respect the catcher's decision to play for his country.
Gomes chose to stay in camp with Cleveland.
"We were impressed with his maturity," Francona said. "We would not have been upset with him if he went, but I thought he showed a lot of maturity. I think he felt like he had something to prove and, looking back on it, it was probably a wise decision. He's become a force back there."
In 88 games, the 26-year-old Gomes hit .294 with 11 home runs and 38 RBIs for the Indians, but his value went beyond his 293 at-bats. Defensively, Gomes took control of the staff, rating extremely well in pitch framing and guiding the pitchers, whom he caught to a 3.55 ERA. He also shut down the running game, throwing out 38.3 percent of would-be basestealers.
It is the defensive aspect of catching that Gomes loves.
Over the winter, Gomes obtained a binder filled with scouting reports on Cleveland's pitchers so he could get a head-start on studying tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. He enjoys learning how to alter his approach to cater to each pitcher's personality and gets a thrill out of being a key part of a game, even if he goes hitless in the batter's box.
"It's almost like being in school again," Gomes said. "I'm not saying I loved school, but this is kind of a subject I like. I get to learn so much."
Over the winter, Gomes also learned what he means to fans back home in Brazil.
At the age of 12, Gomes moved from Mogi das Cruzes, located in Sao Paulo, to live and pursue baseball in Miami. He had only been back once since he left, but returned with his family as part of MLB's ambassador program. Gomes toured facilities, helped with clinics and got a first-hand look at how much baseball has grown since he left.
"That was extremely humbling, man," Gomes said. "I had no idea what it was like. I got phone calls from family from down there, saying how proud there were of me, but when I got down there and we did some clinics and stuff, it was awesome.
"The way they do stuff down there, and I'm extremely proud of them, they're not just trying to build just the baseball guys. Some of the academies there, they have schools inside. It's not just baseball. They're trying to build grown men."
Originally, Gomes planned on traveling with only his father, agent and wife, Jenna. His mother and an uncle decided to join the group, and that turned out to be a blessing in disguise. While in Brazil, Gomes' grandfather, Carlito, died after a long battle with complications of a stroke.
"When I got to pro ball, he was the kind of guy that always believed in me," Gomes said. "His joke was, 'When you make it up, you're going to buy me a car.' I never got to. He was an amazing person."
Gomes' grandfather did, however, get to witness Yan's rise last season.
What a difference a year makes.
"It's an exciting time for Gomer," Francona said. "From last year's meeting to this year's meeting was unbelievable."