March 8, 2011; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Anthony Gose (43) dives and catches a fly ball by New York Yankees third baseman Bill Hall (not pictured) to end the top of the sixth inning of a spring training game at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

The Upside and Downside of Anthony Gose

March 2, 2012; Dunedin, FL, USA; Toronto Blue Jays center fielder Anthony Gose (43) poses for a portrait during photo day at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Derick E. Hingle-US PRESSWIRE

Without a doubt, Anthony Gose is the most polarizing prospect in the Blue Jays’ system, as everyone has an opinion on the 6-foot-1 center fielder. The strange love affair among the fan base began after Toronto acquired Gose from Houston, via Philadelphia, at the 2010 trade deadline. The Astros acquired Gose in a package deal from the Phillies in exchange for Roy Oswalt, and then swapped him to the Blue Jays in a rare prospect-for-prospect deal, receiving first baseman Brett Wallace. However, for Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, the hunger for Gose began long before. During the Roy Halladay trade discussions of late 2009, the ‘Silent Assassin’ made acquiring him a priority. Phillies GM Ruben Amaro Jr. refused to include the toolsy outfielder, forcing Anthopoulos to accept another outfielder, Michael Taylor, instead. But in the end, what Alex Anthopoulos wants, Alex Anthopoulos gets.

The scouting report on Gose is an interesting one, and makes the wide array of opinions understandable. One thing everyone can agree on, however, is that Gose is a special defender. In addition to roaming the outfield for his Bellflower, California high school, Gose worked off the mound, where he sat between 92 and 96 mph with his fastball. That arm has translated extremely well to professional baseball, as it serves as an 80-grade tool in center field, and he has recorded 13, 16, and 14 outfield assists in his last three seasons. Despite his muscular build, he’s an exceptional athlete, grading out with plus-plus speed and above-average baserunning ability. Those afterburners serve him well on defense, as they give him exceptional range and the ability to run down nearly any ball from gap to gap in the outfield. If he improves his reads and first step, he has the potential to be an 80-grade defender.

While the defensive aspect of his scouting report reads glowingly, the offensive side has more question marks. His power, once a below-average tool, has blossomed to solid-average, flashing the potential for 15-20 home runs — in addition to the numerous double and triples his legs will help him create.

The red flags can usually be found next to the scouting section titled “Anthony Gose hit tool”. Gose is currently a below-average hitter, which is a bit puzzling considering his lightning-fast hands, repeatable swing, and smooth weight transfer. His stance has a wide base and is quiet outside of a small bat wiggle. He even has an above-average eye at the plate, consistently working deep into counts. The problems arise when he gets to two strikes, because as Keith Law wrote in his Top 100, “his two-strike approach still needs work – because it doesn’t really exist”. So while the deep counts can lead to walks, they also lead to a plethora of strikeouts.

This is where the variations in projections come into play. Gose hit .253 with a 26.2% strikeout rate with Double-A New Hampshire in 2011, and that’s not good enough to be a big-league regular. To simply maintain a .250 average while making the transition from the minor leagues to the Majors, Gose will need to make improvements in his swing, perhaps keeping his front shoulder closed to make him less susceptible to breaking balls on the outer half. If not, smart pitching coaches will find the holes and pick his swing apart.

For argument’s sake, let’s assume he makes no such adjustments, failing to further develop his offensive approach. Assuming he receives the roughly 700 PAs that he’d need at the big-league level, how would he fare?

700 PA | 622 AB | 97 1B | 24 2B | 9 3B | 16 HR | 60 BB | 16 HBP | 2 SF | 47 SB | 15 CS

The above statistics are my best estimates given his tools and historical numbers, translating to a .694 OPS (.235/.315/.379) and .318 wOBA. From this data, we can calculate his wRAA, the offensive aspect of the WAR formula. wRAA is calculated by subtracting the league average wOBA from the players value, dividing it by a scaling factor, and multiplying everything by plate appearances. Using 2010 league data, that gives Gose a -1.12 wRAA – unsurprisingly, a below average offensive player. But offense is only one part of the equation, defense and base running ability play large factors as well. Since those numbers are difficult to predict, I used the average of the top three defensive center fielders for Gose’s fielding, and the average of the top five base stealers for Gose’s base running — fair assumptions given his tools. These numbers translate to 13.1 and 4.3 runs above average, respectively. When added to his -1.12 wRAA, we get a net total of 16.28 runs above average. WAR is calculated simply by dividing runs above average by 10, making Anthony Gose a 1.6 WAR player.

While that number isn’t particularly appealing for someone considered a top prospect, one must remember the circumstances. This is assuming that Gose has no further offensive development, and is thrown into regular duty. That 1.6 WAR would have been 19th among qualified center fielders in 2011 (see below, via FanGraphs.com), and put him on the fringe between the “role player” and “solid regular” classifications.

The other end of the spectrum has Gose spending the 2012 season in Triple-A Las Vegas, refining his offensive game with hitting coach Chad Mottola, and then following a normal development approach once he reaches the Majors. What might his ceiling be under these circumstances?

700 PA | 605 AB | 111 1B | 25 2B | 12 3B | 18 HR | 77 BB | 16 HBP | 2 SF | 55 SB | 17 CS

A significant improvement over the previous numbers, these statistics translate to an .813 OPS (.275/.368/.445) and .369 wOBA. Using the same calculation as before, Gose comes out with a 27.44 wRAA – well above average. If we then use the same averages to determine the fielding and base running aspects of the equation, we get 44.84 runs above average, or 4.5 WAR. His 4.5 WAR would have ranked 8th among qualified center fielders in 2011, and falls into the “All Star” classification, which is obviously elite territory.

This quick exercise proves that while there are numerous possible outcomes, the upside with Gose is pretty huge. Small adjustments in his offensive game transform him from a bottom of the lineup platoon outfielder into an All-Star centerfielder and dynamic leadoff hitter. It also gives insight into just how valuable his defense and athleticism make him in the sabermetrically-driven modern era of baseball, as even with zero (or negative) offensive contribution he can be a useful roster player.

Whether or not he’ll make the required adjustments to unleash his potential is the million dollar question, and is the reason why scouts and Major League executives alike will continue to give him opportunities to succeed.

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