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Go Bold or Go Home: Yan Gomes Can Be Your Hero Too

 You know Yan Gomes is a hero. Everyone knows. Well, okay, maybe you don't, but he’s a hero in Brazil. In America he plays for Cleveland, so maybe you didn’t know about his heroic deeds.

But you’d better find out before this year’s draft day, because Gomes is the catcher for you.  Those of you who actually read the article I linked above (not most of you) know that Indians manager Terry Francona wants Gomes for his starting catcher next year, over lead-gloved superstar Carlos Santana. Plus, Cleveland can actually put a better lineup on the field that way, with Santana going to first (or third?) and Nick Swisher to the outfield.

Before we dive into the Gomes’s stats, let’s just think about that and let it sink in. The Indians have one of the best hitting catchers in baseball. But they move him to first base. They have a decent hitting first baseman, but they move him into an outfield corner. New guy comes in to play catcher. And the offense gets better?

That’s not how it usually works, and it tells us something special about Gomes: the Indians think he’s better than any of their options to play corner outfield, first base, or third base. That may say bad things about the Indians’ hitting options…or it may say some very good things about Yan Gomes. I’m sure defense comes into play here as well, but that didn’t stop Cleveland from splitting the difference and giving Santana half-time work at catcher the last few years. At very least, Gomes’s management believes in him, and that’s a good place to start. 

I mean, what if Mike Napoli’s management had believed in him when he was an Angel? He would have been fantasy gold. Gomes is too.

My Mike Napoli comparison isn’t exactly fair. For one thing, it looks like Gomes can play catcher effectively—hence the increasing playing time. For another, it looks like he can sort of hit for average, as he batted .294 in 88 games last year. He did this with a lofty .342 BABIP, but the result was good enough that if his BABIP regresses to the mean, he shouldn’t kill your average. 

But you aren’t drafting Gomes for his average—I mean, that’s not why anyone drafts Napoli. You’re drafting Gomes—and you are, I know it—for his power. His .481 slugging was behind only Wilin Rosario and Jason Castro among catchers with at least 300 PA. For those keeping score, that’s better than Joe Mauer, Buster Posey, and his own teammate, Carlos Santana. 

Like I was when I first investigated Gomes, I know you’re thinking, “Small sample size!” And you’re right to do so. But Gomes has been doing this for a while. In 2012, he crushed the ball in AAA. The year before, he did the same thing in AA, and the year before that…well, you get the picture. He’s got three years in a row of .200-plus ISO’s in the minor leagues under his belt, which is to say that his Major League success isn’t really a surprise. It’s more like the logical next step in his development.

Now, one caveat is that he was old for each of those levels when he played at them and he doesn’t come with any kind of top-prospect pedigree. I don’t know if Gomes will be a great catcher for years and years to come; he might be one of those guys who comes up a little late and doesn’t last all that long.

Who cares? (Except, you know, Gomes, the Indians, and every incipient baseball fan in Brazil.) Unless you’re drafting for a dynasty league, we could care less what happens to Gomes after 2014 and all the indicators seem to say that right now, this year, his talent is ready to play at a high level in the Major Leagues. Gomes can catch and he can hit for power and that’s a great fantasy combination. 

If you’re in a single-catcher league, you can safely wait quite a while to snag Gomes. There are a lot of more exciting name-brand options out there, and frankly, all but the last couple teams to draft a catcher in that format will probably be happy with their production. If you target Gomes, you won’t need to break the bank on Yadier Molina or Brian McCann, but you won’t need to settle for Evan Gattis or Jarrod Saltalamacchia either.

In two-catcher leagues, the stakes get higher, but that’s all the more reason to nab Gomes. He’ll produce like a number one catcher if you need him to, but you should be able to draft him late enough to pair with one of the elite options and get a serious advantage in the catcher slot. 

Whatever your format, whatever your strategy, I’m prepared to boldly predict that Yan Gomes will have a great year, and slug over .450 in full playing time. (By the way, that’s exactly .001 points better than Steamer projects him for. Thanks for the support, Steamer.) In a better-than-you-think Cleveland lineup, Gomes ought to be pretty helpful in the counting stats as well. With some BABIP luck, he could be a four-category guy.

Gomes is a national hero in one of the world’s biggest countries. And he can be a hero on your fantasy team too.

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