Nothing on a baseball diamond catches attention like the sizzle of a forcefully thrown ball. The sound is a combination of seams, gravity and friction; the harder the throw, the louder the hiss. There are many positions in baseball where a good throwing arm is necessary — right-field, third base and catcher are examples. However, no position gets to routinely show off like shortstop. Because of placement on the field and the need to turn double-plays, the six-hole always has more opportunities.
Shawon Dunston is widely regarded as having the greatest arm at short. Dunston fired the ball across the diamond with the velocity of an RPG. However, Shawon wasn’t particularly accurate. His throws could just as easily wind up twenty rows deep as they could in the first baseman’s mitt. Long-time teammate and first baseman Mark Grace’s take on Dunston’s arm:
"“Dunston had a cannon for an arm. He threw harder than Nolan Ryan, Robb Nen or Rob Dibble. He could have been a closer but he’d have killed people. His ball moved, and that motion made it feel heavy. You couldn’t catch it square. It vibrated in your glove and up your arm.”"
Two things about that quote stand out to me. First, Grace played 16 seasons in the bigs and was one of the slickest fielding first basemen ever. He won four Gold Gloves at first. If he couldn’t easily catch Dunston’s throws, no one could have. Second, playing first with Dunston at short sounds like it was pretty damn miserable, not to mention dangerous.
Troy Tulowitzki doesn’t have the same kind of arm strength that Dunston had, nevertheless his is still exceptional. Unlike Dunston though, Tulo has the ability to combine power and accuracy with his throws. Troy guns down runners from all around the infield, creating numerous extra outs over the course of a season. However, as impressive as Tulo’s arm is, it may not be the best shortstop arm in the Rockies’ system. According to many, prospect Hector Gomez throws even harder.
Gomez is a product of the Rockies’ continued efforts to build a presence in the Dominican Republic. In 2004, Colorado signed Hector, a native of San Pedro, when he was just 16. Since his 2006 debut in the Rockies’ minor league system, Gomez has generated much buzz. Over the last five years, he has been named a top prospect too many times to count. Earlier this month, despite only playing 111 total games over the last three seasons, Hector was still ranked by Baseball America as the number 10 overall player in Colorado’s system.
Gomez is one of the best fielding prospects in all of the minors. Many think his total skill package is already comparable to Tulo’s — though he can’t compete with Troy at the plate. Hector runs well and has very quick feet, allowing him excellent range. He can make off-balance throws from various places on the field. Overall, Hector’s defense holds up well against any big league shortstop, but he must improve in other areas before he is ready for the majors.
Offensively, Hector has potential, but he lacks discipline and often chases bad pitches. As a result, he doesn’t walk much, strikes out a lot and doesn’t carry a high batting average. His best season came in 2009 with Modesto when he hit .275/.310/.423. Even during that season, he only walked 15 times while striking out 68 times in 368 plate appearances. Still, the Rockies like his bat. According to the team, Gomez possesses untapped power and will fix his plate discipline problems with more experience.
Despite playing in the Rockies’ minor leagues since 2006, Hector only has 35 at-bats in levels above A ball. Gomez has been cursed with injuries. In 2006 and 2007, he played in a combined 186 games, but has had trouble staying on the field since. In his first game of the 2008 season, Hector sustained a stress fracture when he fouled a ball off his left shin. Then, while rehabbing his leg, he blew out his elbow and missed the remainder of the season. He had three total at-bats for the year. Hector had better luck in 2009, playing in 83 games for Modesto, but he still missed a month because of a groin strain.
To put it frankly, 2010 was an awful year for Hector. He missed significant time because of a lower back injury, another stress fracture (this one to his right shin), and the tragic death of his newborn son in June. He only appeared in 27 games — 18 with Tri-City and 9 with Tulsa. While his injury history is troubling, most in the organization believe Hector has been a victim of bad luck and will eventually overcome this string of fluky incidents. Regardless, it is important that he stays on the field next season and gains experience in higher levels of the minors.
Even with his propensity to get hurt, Gomez’s talent has forced the Rockies to keep him on their 40-Man roster. Other teams are well aware of Hector’s potential and have been interested in acquiring him ever since he made a big impression in the 2009 Arizona Fall League. If Hector wasn’t on the 40 Man, he would’ve been a prime candidate for the Rule 5 Draft this past December.
Obviously, the Rox are set at shortstop for the next decade. If Hector ever becomes a regular player for Colorado, it will be as a second baseman. However, for now, the Rockies seem content to leave him at short in the minors. Since he only played in nine AA games last year, Hector will probably start the year in Tulsa, but a quick promotion to Colorado Springs is a real possibility. Assuming he stays healthy and produces, he has a very good chance of getting called up in September. One thing is for certain, the organization thinks highly of Hector. They are convinced that he will be a big league regular one day.