June 12, 2012
Vols in the Pros Series:
Arencibia Making His Mark in the Majors
By Brian Rice
ATLANTA - Like most aspiring major leaguers, Yan Gomes faced long odds of making it to "The Show" after leaving Tennessee following the 2008 season. Just four years later, he beat those odds, breaking barriers en route to earning a call up to the Toronto Blue Jays, and finding a familiar face when he got there.
VERSATILITY THE KEY
At Tennessee, Gomes earned Freshman All-America honors in 2007 while playing four out of five defensive positions in the Volunteer infield. Initially the backup to J.P. Arencibia at catcher, his .310 average at the plate proved to be too valuable to sit when Arencibia was behind the dish.
Drafted in 2009 by the Blue Jays after a year at Barry College in his hometown of Miami, Gomes found making his way through the lower levels of Toronto's system to be a fairly quick exercise.
In his first year at the professional level, Gomes played just four games in the rookie-level Gulf Coast League before being called up to the Auburn (N.Y.) Doubledays of the New York-Penn League, hitting .300 with two home runs and 46 RBIs in 64 games between the two teams.
After spending 2010 splitting time between Lansing (Mich.) and Dunedin (Fla.) in Class-A, Gomes found himself in a logjam at the catcher position in 2011 while in Double-A New Hampshire, backing up the top-rated prospect in the Blue Jays system, Travis d'Arnaud, while former UT teammate Arencibia was establishing himself as the starter with the Major League club.
But just like at Tennessee, the power in his bat meant the organization would have to find another way to keep him in the lineup. Gomes had seen time at first base in his career in the minors, but he began to see time at third base to extend his versatility, and increase his odds of making it to Toronto.
"When you see him catch, he's athletic, he's got good hands, and with d'Arnaud and J.P., his path to the big leagues might require some versatility," Blus Jays manager John Farrell told MLB.com earlier this season. "So we started to take some looks and workouts -- he looked OK, we threw him out in a game against the Orioles in Sarasota. Well, why not put him out at third base every day in (Triple-A) Las Vegas? He'll catch once or twice a week, like a lot of guys, their bat is going to find a way."
After hitting .359 with five home runs, 12 doubles and 22 runs batted in 33 games at Las Vegas, his bat did indeed find a way.
A FAMILIAR FACE
The experiment at third base proved to be Gomes' ticket to the big leagues.
He was called up and made his Major League debut as the starter at third against the New York Yankees on May 14, recording his first hit in the fourth inning as part of a 2-for-3 performance.
But while standing at his third base position, Gomes could see a familiar face just 90 feet away behind home plate in Arencibia.
"The odds are against everybody no matter who you are," Gomes said. "Especially the odds of actually making it with a teammate (from college), the guy you hit behind for a year, it's pretty cool."
The connection would get even cooler four days later against the New York Mets. In the bottom of the first inning, Arencibia clubbed his sixth home run of the year. Then, leading off the second inning, Gomes hit the first pitch he saw over the center field fence for his first Major League home run.
That game marked the first time the duo had hit a home run in the same game since they both went yard in the 2007 regular-season finale, an 11-7 win over Florida in Gainesville that clinched a spot for Tennessee in the SEC Tournament.
"It's cool to have somebody (from UT) in the same clubhouse as I am," Arencibia said. "He was like my best friend in college and he's like a little brother to me so it's a really proud feeling of seeing him do well."
Through June 11 this season, Gomes is hitting .226 with three home runs and eight RBIs over 14 games. He was optioned back down to AAA from May 27-June 4 as the Blue Jays carried an extra pitcher on the active roster, but rejoined the club on June 6 against the Chicago White Sox.
BREAKING A BARRIER
Gomes went to high school in Miami, but was born in Sao Paulo, Brazil, where he lived until age 12. Brazil is the fifth-largest country in the world, but until Gomes' debut on May 14, the country of nearly 200 million people had never produced a Major League Baseball player.
"I'm really proud of it," Gomes told MLB.com the night of his debut. "It's an honor to represent my country."
With the excitement of his debut behind him, Gomes is settling into his role with the Blue Jays. He started at first base in his return to the majors on June 6, and has appeared as a pinch hitter in each of Toronto's five games since.
Gomes says getting used to playing in Major League Baseball is a familiar feeling.
"It's like how I felt as freshman coming in to play college," Gomes said. "How does it feel to play in a powerhouse like the SEC? You kind of feel real nervous, but you just have to take it in. It's the same game you know, you're just playing under 50,000 people. It's a dream come true, but you just have to battle it out, like I did when I first came in to the SEC."