Anthony Gose wants to be a star, and that‘s exactly what Alex Anthopoulos and the Blue Jays are hoping he becomes. For now, he'll have to be content with being rated as the ninth-best prospect in the Toronto system by Kevin Goldstein; ESPN’s Keith Law has him at number eight, while Baseball America confidently deemed him number four.
A 20-year-old outfielder from Bellflower, California, Gose possesses one of the highest ceilings in the Blue Jays system. The question is whether he can translate his elite athleticism into consistent performance between the lines. He has shown flashes of brilliance since being drafted by the Phillies two years ago, but also plenty of raw edges. Despite his blazing speed, he was successful on just 58 percent of his steal attempts last summer, and in 574 plate appearances he struck out 132 times. Splitting the season between a pair of Florida State League teams, Gose hit a less-than-scintillating .262/.332/.393.
A NEW PLAYGROUND
Gose became Toronto property at last July’s trading deadline, hopscotching from the Phillies to the Astros to the Blue Jays. Houston acquired him as part of the Roy Oswalt deal and promptly flipped him north in exchange for Brett Wallace. As a result, the 2008 second-round pick spent most of the campaign in Clearwater and finished it in Dunedin. It didn't take him long to acclimate to his new surroundings.
“At first the trade was a little awkward, because I was coming into a clubhouse with guys I’d been playing against all summer,” said Gose. “The next thing you know, you’re cheering them on instead of trying to make plays against them and hit against their pitchers. Eventually I got into a groove where I had put everything aside and was playing the game the same way I had earlier in the season.
“That’s what Alex Anthopoulos was expecting from me,” continued Gose. “I talked to him on the day of the trade and he told me how excited he was to have me in the organization, and for me to just keep doing what I’ve been doing, to keep playing the game like I know how. He also told me that he had been trying to get me for awhile, both in spring training and then in the Roy Halladay deal.”
Dunedin manager Clayton McCullough was no less excited to see Gose join the organization.
“He came over from another Florida State League team, so we had obviously watched Anthony from the other dugout,” said McCullough. “He stood out, because his tools really jump out at you. He had some very good games against us. Once he joined our club and we got to see him every day, we saw even more how special his talent really is.”
Along with raw talent, Gose possesses a pair of ingredients that will help him climb the minor-league ladder: a fast-revving engine and a strong work ethic.
“One thing that stood out for me was the way he works,” explained McCullough. “We saw it from day one. He came over in the middle of the season, and by then a lot of guys have eased up a bit, because there’s a lot of wear and tear, and down here the heat gets to you. This kid was the first guy to the ballpark every day. He’d hit in the cage, and when batting practice was over, he’d go back to the cage. He has a tremendous worth ethic and the desire to be great. Some guys talk like they want to be big-league players. They say what you want to hear, but you don’t see them actually putting the backbone, and the work, behind that thought. He came over looking to prove to everybody, ‘This is what I am. I’m Anthony Gose and this is how I prepare.’ I was impressed with that.”
“He plays really hard,” agreed an executive for a rival American league club. “He has a lot of fun out there, and he’s confident. I know that the Phillies staff liked him a lot.”
“I guess I like to think that I’m exciting on the field,” said Gose, when asked to describe his game. “I’m energetic. I like to make things happen on the base paths. I like to play defense. I just want…I like to be the star; I like to be in the limelight at all times. When people leave the ballpark, they remember who I am. That‘s what I want to be.”
According to the American League executive, Gose possesses star-quality tools, but he also has his limitations.
“We like him and think that he is definitely a future major-league center fielder,” said the executive. “He’s a 75 runner [on the 80-point scouting scale] who plays with a lot of energy and is aggressive on the base paths. We see him as a double-plus defensive center fielder, a double-plus thrower, and a double-plus runner, but he’s probably only average hitting-wise and we see below-average power with not great on-base [skills]. We don’t see him as a future all-star, but we do think the overall package will be enough to make him a solid center fielder.”
A left-handed hitter, the 6-foot-1, 190 lb. Gose has batted just .260/.326/.372 as a professional, with over three times as many strikeouts (254) as walks (81). Displaying more pizzazz than pop, he has logged over twice as many triples (23) as home runs (9). To what degree he can hone his plate discipline and add distance to his drives is a matter of opinion.
“He has kind of a crude approach and has trouble handing secondary stuff,” opined the executive. “He’ll get behind in the count, because he’s kind of a free swinger, which is a reason we think he’s never going to be a high-on-base-percentage guy. We see him as maybe a .260-type hitter, with some on-base and a little bit of power.
“He’s really more of a spray type of hitter,” continued the executive. “Power really isn’t his game, but you also never know with kids like this. They’re athletic and you don’t always know just how they’ll grow and develop. But we don’t see a lot of true, loft power. We see him as more of a gap-to-gap hitter. He’ll be more of a doubles-triples slugging-percentage guy than a home-runs slugging-percentage guy.”
“He’s got some serious strength in his body,” said McCullough, who is more bullish about Gose’s power potential. “He has the ability to get some extra-base hits and not just rely totally on his speed getting out of the batter's box. He’s going to get stronger as he matures. He’s not going to be Prince Fielder, but he’s got the strength in his hands to drive 10 or 15 balls out of the ballpark. You look at the ball come off his bat in the cage, and see him square up some balls in games, and there’s a lot in that bat. He can do some damage, because he’s got a quick bat and he’s got strength.”
CAUGHT IN THE ACT
The most perplexing aspect of Gose’s game—the area that needs the most refinement—has been base running. The speedster swiped 76 bags in 2009, but he was also thrown out 20 times. In 2010, he was gunned down 32 times in 77 attempts, an almost unfathomable number given his plus-plus wheels.
“I’m not at all satisfied with those numbers,” admitted Gose. “I’d like to be perfect. At the beginning of the season I wanted to steal 100 bases, and that obviously didn’t work out. Early in the year, I had a lot of mental things going on. I was thinking too much instead of just going out there and letting my instincts take over. I wasn’t getting the jumps I needed to get. I was thinking about what I needed to do instead of just doing it.”
“It’s tough to say just why on all of the caught stealings, but he got picked off a bunch,” said the American League executive. “Ten of his caught stealings were pickoffs, which is quite a few. But like I said, he’s aggressive and he’s still learning how to steal bases. The way a lot of organizations teach that is by just running all the time, and you get thrown out a lot as a result.
“We don’t see any issues with him as far as becoming a good base stealer,” continued the executive. “He’s such a fast runner. He just needs to learn how to run the bases a little better, because that will be a strength of his when he gets older and matures.”
“I think [the caught stealings] were mostly a case of him being a young guy,” added McCullough. “He had never not been successful, and I think he came to realize that there is more to it than just taking off, especially when teams are keying on you. There’s a learning curve to being a successful base stealer and he’s going through some of that stuff right now. In three or four years, I don’t think anybody is going to remember what his success rate was in A-ball.”
While his bat and his base-stealing skills remain works in progress, Gose can catch and throw with the best of them. He reportedly touched 97 mph as a pitcher in high school, and his sprinter speed is amongst the best in the minor leagues. Paired with good natural instincts, his upside is that of a Gold-Glove-quality outfielder.
“Defensively, he has a chance to be outstanding, because of his speed and his arm,” said McCullough. “And along with his skills, he’s not afraid to go out and make a great play out there. He’s not afraid to play shallow and challenge a hitter. He’s a fearless guy, and very confident defensively.
“His arm is an easy seven [on an eight-point scale],” continued McCullough. “For a center fielder, you’re not going to find a better arm. He can throw with anybody. It’s a right-fielder’s arm; it’s plus-plus.”
“Along with being a good athlete, he has an 80 arm,” said the executive. “He also has double-plus arm accuracy, so we really feel that he is going to be a double-plus defensive center fielder.”
“When he came here, he took charge in center field, even though he was playing with guys he had never played with,” added McCullough. “He remembers hitters from other teams, and he positions himself well. You’d forget that he was one of the youngest players in the league, watching him do all of those things.”
“The  season has been a big positive,” said Gose. “It has been a big learning process, the whole way through, in every aspect of the game—defensively, offensively, on the base paths. Maybe the numbers don’t show it, but I’ve taken a lot from this year in terms of what I need to do to continue to get better.”
“He broke his hand late in the season, but he kept a great attitude and went on to have a nice finish to instructional league once he got back healthy,” said McCullough. “We’ll see what happens this spring. I know that Anthony will come in ready to go, with a good opportunity to make the Double-A club.”
“He has really good defensive instincts in center field,” said the executive. “You like to see that, because those types of instincts typically translate to the whole game. Instincts are something you either have or you don’t, and he has them. We think he‘s going to play in the major leagues.”