A year later, Dauer’s evaluation of Gomez has haunting echo

February 20, 2011 | 8:25 pm  

Late in spring training last year, third base coach Rich Dauer, who instructs the Colorado Rockies infielders, spoke glowingly about shortstop Hector Gomez and how, more than anything, he needed to avoid another injury.

Didn’t happen. Just 17 days later, Gomez hurt his back in the second game of the season for Double-A Tulsa. He ended up with a mere 104 at-bats in 2010 and was scratched from the Arizona Fall League. Gomez is healthy and moving well this spring with the Rockies keeping their fingers crossed Gomez will return to Tulsa to start the season and play shortstop.

Eleven months ago when Dauer discussed Gomez, shortstop Troy Tulowitzki wasn’t signed through 2020. But even then, Tulowitzki was casting a shadow over Gomez, causing speculation he would move to second base but by no means impeding his development. A move to second base isn’t imminent for Gomez, since the Rockies simply want him to play every day and to be comfortable, which he will be at shortstop.

“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.”

Dauer praised Gomez as someone who “loves to work, loves to learn” and who might have been “pushing for a major league job” last spring had he not missed virtually all of 2008 and a large chunk of 2009. Dauer said, “The fact he’s lost 500-600 at-bats over the last couple years is a major hindrance to his development.” And then Gomez went on to miss out on another 400 or so at-bats last season when he developed a stress fracture in his lower back.

Nonetheless, Gomez, who turns 23 on March 5, remains a tantalizing prospect, one of the few potential impact players in the Rockies system. Dauer was the Rockies roving infield coordinator from 2006-2008 and in that role got his first glimpses of the talented Gomez, then still a teenager. He first saw Gomez at Rookie Casper in 2006 (where he hit .327 with five homers and 35 RBI in 50 games) and the following year at low Class A Asheville (.266-11-61 in 124 games), seasons when Gomez was healthy and played regularly.

“He stood head and shoulders above the league when he got to Casper, head and shoulders (above) when he got to Asheville,” Dauer said. “He’s just that good that there’s that big aura, but then all of a sudden the two years of down time, not being able to play the way he can play.”

Make that three years, now.

Gomez shows the potential to hit at least 15 home runs a year. To be sure, he needs to develop more patience and plate discipline and do a better job recognizing breaking pitches. All this is part of the development process, which for Gomez has been anything but smooth. But even when he refines his offensive game, Gomez is likely to retain that draw-first gunslinger mentality at the plate.

“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.”

Which isn’t to suggest that Gomez will hit 20 or more home runs and average .300 or better four straight years in the majors as Ramirez, who like Gomez is from the Dominican Republic, has done the past four seasons. And defensively, too, Gomez is growing, learning to meld his physical gifts with field logic.

“The main thing is he does everything at such a high speed,” Dauer said. “He’ll make a lot of mistakes because he is so good, he’ll get to a lot of balls (which will) cause a lot more errors. He gets to so many balls where he doesn’t really have a chance to throw people out or there’s a slim chance and I love the fact that he’ll never just give in. But then at some point you have to be smart enough to give in. That’s what makes you a better player.

“As you get higher, the game speeds up. You have to slow down and know where to be. I think right now he’s at that point, the game speeds up and he gets faster. He’ll get there, though. Put him on the field, let him play and he’ll take care of it because he can do it.”

That’s an organizational conviction, unchanged from a year ago but with not much more in the way of proof. Obviously, there’s more time and less temptation to rush at second base, or even third, than at shortstop. But that’s getting ahead of things with Gomez, which the Rockies have painfully learned, and which Dauer’s assessment from a year ago shows, serves no purpose.