Shortstop has been a pain-point for the Brewers since the departure of J.J. Hardy and Alcides Escobar.
Fans suffered through a season of Yuniesky Betancourt in 2011, though that somehow seems almost preferable to the current combination of Cesar Izturis and Cody Ransom. Outside of Alex Gonzalez (who performed exceedingly well at shortstop prior to tearing his ACL early this season), the Brewers’ shortstops mentioned above have combined for +0.5 WAR over the past two seasons. That number essentially indicates that Milwaukee has staffed a shortstop position with replacement-level, Triple-A talent.
Cast your eyes to the minor-league ranks, and the talent void doesn’t improve. The top levels are stocked with journeymen such as Edwin Maysonet, Hainley Statia, and Tommy Manzella. Former Royals prospect Jeff Bianchi has performed well with Triple-A Nashville this season, but his questionable arm strength at shortstop, injury history, and lack of power make his potential transition to the big leagues rather worrisome.
Continue to the lower levels. Yadiel Rivera has the tools defensively to be a big league shortstop, but his approach at the plate presents major issues. Angel Ortega is an intriguing recent-draftee with some skills in the field and at the plate. He remains light years away from his projection, though. Perhaps Dominican prospect Orlando Arica possesses the brightest future, but he will be sidelined for the remainder of the season with an ankle injury and has not played in a game outside of the Dominican Summer League or instructionals.
On Thursday, however, the organization claimed 24-year-old shortstop Hector Gomez from Colorado and designated Brandon Kintzler for assignment, due to his struggles in Double-A following multiple arm injuries.
Gomez was a former top prospect in the Colorado Rockies’ farm system, who has fallen victim to a plethora of injuries that has derailed his development. Baseball America rated him as the Rockies’ fifth-best prospect in 2009 — one year after he dealt with groin issues and underwent Tommy John surgery. He ranked fifth yet again in 2010, but suffered a stress fracture in his leg and dealt with personal issues when his young son died shortly after birth that summer. Still the tenth-ranked prospect in 2011, Gomez finally played over 100 games and finished the season with the big league club, but dealt with back issues all year.
This year, Baseball America still ranked him the 19th-best prospect in the Rockies’ system. They lauded his plus-defensive abilities at shortstop, his rocket arm, and his surprising pop for a wiry 24-year-old. He has little in terms of plate discipline, but he possesses great hand-eye coordination and can put the bat on the baseball.
Here is what Rockies’ third base coach, Rich Dauer, said about Gomez in 2010:
“Shortstop right now is a tremendous spot for him, but he can play third or second,” Dauer said. “He’s a tremendous athlete. He’s a quality, quality defensive player.
“There’s no question about the ability with the range factor, the arm factor and the ability to turn difficult plays into plays that can be made. There’s a lot of difference between calling range ‘range’ because you can get to a ball. Range is only getting to a ball and making him out at first base. He’s definitely got all that.”
“This guy’s not going to be one of those guys that just sits back and works the count to 3-2,” Dauer said. “If he can hurt you on pitch No. 1, he’s going to and he has that ability. So you don’t really want to take that away. He’s a Hanley Ramirez-type guy, (readily) swinging and can put a real hurting on you when he puts the bat on the ball.”
Of course, the key caveat in his development laid in his health. The Rockies needed him to finally stay healthy.
Unfortunately, Gomez has once again struggled with a groin injury this year. He suffered the injury in spring training and had just started his rehab assignment in High-A Modesto when the Rockies designated him for assignment to clear space on the 40-man roster.
It was then that Doug Melvin and the Brewers saw an opportunity to acquire a once highly-regarded shortstop prospect without sacrificing talent in return. The only real cost was a spot on the 40-man roster.
Gomez was optioned to High-A Brevard County to continue his rehab assignment. Do not expect him to remain in Brevard County for the remainder of the season, though. If he proves healthy and can put a couple solid months together, the organization could send him to the Arizona Fall League to continue his development and give him an outside chance at pushing for a roster spot in Milwaukee next year. After all, Gomez made his major-league debut in 2011 and had a chance to crack the big league club again this season, though the injured groin in spring training prevented that from happening.
For an organization that has desperately sought a long-term answer at shortstop the past two seasons, taking a chance on an athlete with a track record, like Hector Gomez, makes perfect sense.