The year was 2012; the player was to be named. The Cleveland Indians and the Toronto Blue Jays made a swap, right-handed reliever Esmil Rodgers (the current Yankee) would move from Cleveland, while shortstop Mike Aviles would make his way to the corner of Carnegie and Ontario.
Aviles was targeted to improve Cleveland’s hitting against left-handed pitching and to provide more depth at the shortstop position behind All-Star Asdrubal Cabrera. The Indians received another bonus in the trade, Yan Gomes. A catcher who, according to then-GM Chris Antonetti, would have an opportunity to compete with Lou Marson for the backup catcher position or be a third-string catcher who could fill in at first base and third base.
Gomes had spent the majority of 2012 in Las Vegas with the 51’s. In his 43 games with Toronto, he hit .204 with four homers and 14 RBIs.
Gomes was drafted in 2009, the same year the fire-arm Stephen Strasburg was drafted first overall by the Washington Nationals. Cleveland chose right-handed pitcher Alex White with their first pick. He pitched three games for the Indians before moving to Colorado in a trade for Ubaldo Jimenez. His last game would be in 2012. Fans had to wait until the 10th round for Gomes to get drafted.
According to minorleagueball.com, a 10th-round pick out of a four-year college has a 76-percent chance at becoming a minor league player for life, compared to just a 3-percent chance at becoming a regular major-league starter.
In 2013, Gomes began as the third-string catcher — behind Carlos Santana and Marson. Then, opportunity knocked for this young catcher. On April 6, Marson was drilled behind the plate by Tampa Bay’s Desmond Jennings, which resulted in a neck strain that would sideline the backup catcher for some time. Just two days later, Santana bruised his thumb on a bouncing fastball from then-closer Chris Perez. The only catcher remaining on the Indians’ 40-man roster was Yan Gomes.
Gomes was still a long shot, though. Even MLBdailydish.com’s Nathan Aderhold said Gomes could get a call up “unless Terry Francona wants to put a utility player like Ryan Raburn behind the dish.”
The rest is history. Gomes would play in 88 games in 2013. He hit .294 with 11 homers and 38 RBIs. That wasn’t the only thing, though. Gomes showed off his defensive ability, proving to be a much better positional catcher than Santana and guaranteeing a roster spot for 2014.
2014 was the year of Yan. The 26-year-old catcher helped the Indians finish 85-77 with a Silver Slugger performance, finishing second in the league in assists with 73 and third in double plays turned by a catcher with eight. Gomes posted a slash line of .278/ .313/.472. Let’s compare that to the two All-Stars at the catcher position for the American League that year: Derek Norris of the Oakland A’s and Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals. Norris posted .270/.361/.403 and Perez posted .260/.289/.403. Gomes had the highest average, although he did not walk as much as Norris, who had nearly double the walks Gomes had, hence the higher on-base percentage. Gomes also had a significantly higher showing of power in 2014 than either All-Star.
The sky was the limit for the young catcher, who had just signed a six-year contract extension with Cleveland, heading into the 2015 season. Then a behind-the-plate collision with current teammate but former Detroit Tigers outfielder Rajai Davis caused an MCL injury that would sideline Gomes for the majority of 2015 and hinder his performance in the remainder of his games.
Entering 2016, the Indians, who just missed the playoffs after calling up young stud Francisco Lindor in the second half of the 2015 season, now boasted one of the best defenses in Major League Baseball — pending a healthy Gomes.
Unfortunately, Gomes suffered a shoulder injury against the Twins while tripping rounding first base in July. Many thought he would be out for the season after he was put on the 60-day disabled list, but Gomes had different plans.
During a rehab stint in September, Gomes was 9-for-27 for the Double-A Akron RubberDucks. In his final game, just two days before he was supposed to appear for the Indians in a series opener against the Detroit Tigers, Gomes was hit by a pitch. The pitch fractured a bone in his wrist and it was almost certain that Gomes’ season was over on September 14.
Fast-forward two weeks. Francona says that Gomes would not be able to hit, but he may be available to catch in the postseason due to his incredible work ethic in trying to get back to the team. Saturday, Gomes caught the ninth inning for Cody Allen and the Indians in a 6-3 win. This was nothing compared to what would be announced the next morning. Gomes would start the final game of the regular season for the Indians.
On Sunday, in his first at-bat — in fact, on the first major-league pitch he had seen since July 17 — Gomes took a hack and sent the ball 416 feet over the left-field wall to give the Indians their first lead of the game. That was Gomes’ first dinger since June 25.
Can this fairy tale continue into the postseason for Cleveland’s first playoff series since 2007 when they lost to the Red Sox in the ALCS? Tune into the 2016 playoffs to find out.
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