ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Chad Mottola and Anthony Gose are going to talk, the Toronto Blue Jays hitting coach listening to all that the young outfield prospect grinding through the most trying season of his life has to say, and then they’ll get to work.
No baggage, no bitterness. Just eyes forward, and carry on.
“We haven’t had that talk yet,” Mottola said Friday, before Gose delivered an RBI single and run-scoring fielder’s choice in a 5-4 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays. “Every time he comes up, I’ve let him get his emotions out and see where he’s at mentally as well as physically. That’s where I let him, if it takes an hour, if it takes five hours, get it all off his chest so we start fresh and pick up where we left off.
“If there’s something that’s holding him back, I let him get it off his chest.”
Judging by Gose’s mood before the contest, their conversation should be a doozy.
Asked to describe what this season has been like, the 23-year-old looked annoyed, stared blankly for five seconds, and then said: “That look right there.”
He laughed, briefly, then turned serious, saying, “Frustrating. I don’t even know if that’s a good enough word. It’s been a year, it’s been frustrating, there have been moments when it’s been good, and there have been a lot more moments when it hasn’t.”
At the root of it all has been an inability to consistently make solid contact.
In 393 at-bats, he struck out 121 times, and reflecting his irritation over that was how he replied to questions about what he’s been working on at the plate, and what lessons he would draw upon during this stint in the majors, etc.
“Hit the ball,” was the reply over and over.
“Same story every year, hit the ball. If I hit the ball, good things happen, if I don’t, minor-league player,” said Gose, adding he’s made little tweaks to his swing and his approach, but nothing drastic.
“Really, it just comes down to getting a good pitch to hit and hitting the ball hard consistently. I started doing that over the last week, week and a half, two weeks down there.”
Overall, Gose hit .239/.316/.336 in 106 games with the Bisons, briefly ending up in manager Marty Brown’s doghouse for some lackadaisical play in the field, all steps backwards after breaking into the big-leagues in 2012.
His first stint didn’t go very well, batting .183/.256/.244 with six walks and 36 strikeouts in 82 at-bats over 28 games – “I came up here and sucked for six weeks,” was how he put it – but he improved during a September call up, posting a solid .262/.347/.393 slash line with 11 walks and 23 strikeouts in 84 at-bats over 28 games.
Still, the off-season came and the Blue Jays signed Melky Cabrera to play left field, relegating Gose to Buffalo. He got off to a decent start in April, the front office kicked around bringing him up and shifting Jose Bautista to third during Jose Reyes’ absence, but he was left down and tailed off.
It’s a situation that can lead many players down a bad road.
“I know from experience and I know from spending a lot of time in the minor-leagues at the triple-A level, when you think you should be in the big-leagues, whether you’ve even earned that right at that time, it can weigh on you,” said manager John Gibbons. “The triple-A level is full of those guys, it’s kind of a tough level, you’ve got the up-and-coming guys who haven’t been there before, everything is ahead of them, you’ve got the guys just hanging on for a job, and you got guys who have been there and think they should be in the big-leagues. … That’s not uncommon.
“Everybody wants to be in the big-leagues, and then when you go up and have a taste of it and you have a little bit of success, you think well … but numbers catch up with you sometimes. They send you back for more seasoning or there’s not a spot, you’ve got to fight through that. It’s easier said than done.”
The Blue Jays did call Gose up in late May when Rajai Davis ended up on the disabled list and he showed well in a part-time role, but again fell off when optioned back to Buffalo.
“It wasn’t so much of that,” he said when asked if unhappiness over his demotion led to his struggles, “it was just when I went down I stopped hitting the ball again, I got frustrated and mad.”
“There were a lot of things that I could control that I wasn’t controlling, as far as attitude and hustle and things like that,” he continued, “but it wasn’t so much because I got sent down, it was more when you do go down and strike out three times a game for four, five games in a row, I’m not going to be happy. I don’t think anybody would be.”
Gose struck out 37 times in 25 June games, watched Kevin Pillar get promoted from double-A New Hampshire and move past him on the depth chart, and didn’t recover until August, when he batted .283/.328/.450 in 16 games with 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts.
It was probably his best stretch of the season. The difference?
“Try not to think about anything, whatever, it didn’t matter, basically,” he said. “Pretty much prepared myself at best to be a September call-up, I didn’t think this was going to happen, I didn’t think I’d be here now. Just figured if I come up here it’d be September, or probably not at all, and just go out and finish the season.”
Things started well Friday, as Gose delivered an RBI single in the sixth inning and then ripped a fielder’s choice to bring home the tying run in the eighth. There was also a fly ball to the track in centre in the fifth, plus his usual smooth defence in the field.
In short, plenty to like.
“Gose has got that edge about him, he competes, man,” said Gibbons. “That’s all you want anybody to do, go up there and compete, have that good intensity. He’s got that. He’s a young kid and no telling how good he can become. You’re not going to find a better centre-fielder out there.”
The Blue Jays plan to give him a chance to build on it, too, as now, with the focus on 2014, he’s going to get a chance to play.
Helping matters will be a full-time reunion with Mottola, his hitting coach at triple-A Las Vegas last year with whom Gose built a strong bond.
“He’s a rhythm type hitter,” Mottola says of Gose. “At times he loses that rhythm pretty easily and that’s when stuff started snowballing for him. We have a couple of things that I visually see in him that can bring that rhythm back, and it’s just based off coach/player relationship, having a history of some easy fixes. It took a while to find those, about four or five months in Vegas to do that, and when you go to a new place, new coach, it takes that much time to build that relationship again.
“That’s where he lets stuff spiral out of control at times.”
Back in control, the Blue Jays have now presented him with an opportunity he didn’t expect. It’s on him to make it count.