photo: Austin Gomber/Springfield Cardinals FANatic Photos
By The Cardinal Nation staff
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Link to Gomber’s player page at The Cardinal Nation, with additional biography and history information.
Selected 2017 stats
TCN Scouting Grade: 5, Risk: Medium (click here to review scales)
Brian Walton’s preamble: In case you missed my explanation in the Max Schrock #15 (also free) capsule regarding the juggling of our rankings, I will recap here.
First of all, you did not miss our prospect #11. At this time, there is not one.
As a result of the Marcell Ozuna and Stephen Piscotty trades, the Cardinals dealt away three top 20 prospects and received two. After considering the merits of all players involved, we decided that #11 would remain open for now.
We shuffled our in-process rankings to add Max Schrock (#15) and Yairo Muñoz (#14) and remove Sandy Alcantara, Magneuris Sierra and Zac Gallen. Two of the traded trio were firmly in our original top 10, and with them now gone, two others moved up into the top 10 and two others already ranked among our top 10 moved up two places.
One by-product of this is that our voters’ individual rankings for the top 10 prospects will appear to be lower than they should be considering the overall placement of the player.
The first prospect affected directly is profiled here today.
Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)
Message board community (10): Austin Gomber, the sixth consecutive pitcher taken by the Cardinals in the 2014 draft, has been consistently ranked in the #9-14 range over the last three years of the community vote. Wiley put Gomber on the board first with his seventh pick. Wiley has long thought highly of Gomber, noting back in 2016 that Gomber, a 6-foot-5 left-hander, is a “downright exceptional talent”.
Desmetlax12 brought up Gomber’s excellent 140 K’s in 143 innings pitched this season, saying “you gotta’ love” that performance. Brianpnoonan said that Gomber should be in the top 10 Cardinals prospects, but that he really just had another ho hum year, which began with an ugly first start. Mudville noted that Gomber has plenty of upside. Wiley capped the discussion saying that Gomber came on stronger than anyone in the second half. He said Gomber was pretty much unhittable with tremendous command of his pitches. – Jeremy Byrd
Derek Shore (13): In January at the Winter Warm-Up, then-general manager John Mozeliak labeled Gomber as St. Louis’ next top lefty starter. In doing so, he placed Gomber ahead of 2013 first round southpaw Marco Gonzales.
Fast forward to July and Gonzales was flipped in a trade to the Seattle Mariners for power hitting outfielder Tyler O’Neill, leaving Gomber as the last remaining lefty starter in the upper levels of the system.
Aside from his handedness, Gomber has the physical ingredients to stand out, including a wholesome 6-foot-5, 235-pound frame coupled with advanced pitchability, which has allowed him to make a steady rise through the Cardinals pipeline in recent years.
Over his first three seasons in the organization, Gomber never posted an ERA higher than 2.69.
Gomber encountered some of his first struggles as a professional, posting a career-worst 5.09 ERA in the first half of his first full season at Double-A Springfield.
According to Springfield manager Johnny Rodriguez, one of the challenges facing the big lefty early in the season was his attempts to make “super pitches” while being too fine. That often left him behind in the count as Texas League hitters eliminated his secondary stuff, hunting his fastball.
As the season progressed, Gomber was forced to make mechanical tweaks in order to keep his stuff in and low in the strike zone.
“I think it is to the point where he is trying to iron some things out with his mechanics – getting a little smoother, which he has done,” Springfield pitching coach Jason Simontacchi said. “He has kind of manipulated his mechanics. We have helped him not be so herky-jerky and smooth things out. It has helped him with his command of more competitive pitches.”
The adjustments paid dividends. After a rocky first half, the big lefty settled in while compiling an overall 10-7 record with a 3.34 ERA and 51 free passes over 143 innings hurled, while leading all Cardinals left-handed pitchers with 140 strikeouts.
“I think his struggles that he has had is he wants to do good badly,” Simontacchi said. “When he gets behind in the count, his mechanics are hard to repeat. When he does get behind, he wants to get the next pitch and make the better pitch, when all he has to do is make the pitch.
“‘You don’t have to make it better. Your stuff is good enough.’ So, next thing you know he is behind in the count. At this level, you get behind in the count and put the ball over the plate; there will be some loud noises.”
Command was the key to Gomber’s turnaround in the second half. He cut his walks per nine innings down from 4.6 to 2.4 over that span.
“He made quality pitches and trusted his stuff,” Rodriguez said. “Not trying to make the perfect pitch and not trying to strike out everybody. That is in a nutshell what he did. Pitching to contact, not afraid of contact.
“(He is) not afraid of contact, not trying to strike out and make the super pitch. Trusting his stuff and relying on the defense, so he went deep into games.”
By season’s end, Simontacchi started to see what makes Gomber the top lefty starter on the Cardinals depth chart.
“I think he just cleaned up his mechanics,” Simontacchi said. “He was a lot smoother, more fluid and been able to repeat them. You see that in his command. His curveball – he was able to move that to both sides of the plate as well as put it down below the zone.
“His changeup worked out immensely and just throwing inside. The big adjustment he made is to clean up his mechanics a tad and being able to repeat.”
At his best, Gomber, who throws from a funky, but deceptive high-three quarters arm slot with a small hitch in the back of his delivery, is the typical Cardinals pitcher with the ability to just throw strikes with good command of three pitches.
“There’s no doubt; he’s got good stuff,” Simontacchi said. “He’s got good plane on his fastball. He’s got a well above-average curveball, and his changeup plays off it too as well as his fastball. He’s a guy that is really competitive.
“I think the competitiveness in him deters him away from executing pitches.”
Two scouting sources were split on Gomber’s stuff this season with one saying his fastball at 90-92, touching 94 at times is an average pitch with good command. Another scout said his heater is fringy without plus command.
The curveball and change graded as average pitches as well for the first scout, giving the latter pitch a future plus grade with more refinement. The second scout said the curve is his best pitch with the equalizer being fringy.
“Solid chance to be a back of the rotation guy (with the floor of a middle reliever),” the first scout said.
“(I) view him more as a long reliever or up and down type starter,” the second scout said, noting Gomber’s inconsistency with creating a plane and constantly having to pitch backwards as his pitfall despite limited viewing.
Gomber explained the progress of his fastball, change, and curve in August.
“Been able to throw my curveball for strikes a lot more early in the count has allowed me to strike guys out more because they have to respect it,” the lefty replied. “Continuing to try to command my fastball better; down in the zone and to both sides of the plate. Try to get some groundballs.
“My changeup is more of a behind in the count, get myself back into the count type of pitch.”
Although, Gomber’s biggest focus has not been to improve his arsenal, per se.
“I would say probably my fastball command,” he said. “Just trying to get the ball down, get some more groundballs and obviously throw my curveball early in the count. I have always been able to throw it late for strikeouts.
“As you move up, guys stop offering at it in the dirt as much, so you just got to prove to them that you can throw it in the strike zone and you’ll get those swings.”
When he’s at his best, scouts see Gomber as a big-bodied lefty who has the look of a durable mid-to-back of the rotation starter. Others envision him as more of a swingman type or spot starter. The big difference was his curveball, which has flashed plus in the past, but was average this past season coupled with an average fastball and no plus pitch to lean on.
It is hard enough to stick in a rotation 32 starts a year, but to do it without a plus offering would seem difficult. He is a durable lefty, who has the ability to maneuver through lineups, so there is definitely value here.
Gomber should open next year at Triple-A Memphis.
Brian Walton (19): OK, it is pretty clear that I am less bullish on Gomber than the other voters. In the big picture, he placed ninth on this list one year ago. But Gomber only remained in the overall top 10 for 2018 – and then, just by an eyelash – because three prospects initially ahead of him were recently traded.
I don’t want to perfume it – I feel 2017 was a lost year for the lefty as he missed some golden opportunities. In what follows, I will explain why.
At this time last year, I considered Gomber in a cluster with fellow prospect starting pitchers Dakota Hudson, Sandy Alcantara, Jack Flaherty and Jake Woodford, but ultimately, I ranked the other four just ahead of him. In three of the four cases, I turned out to be right, with only the younger Woodford advancing more slowly during this past season.
Still, Gomber had considerable wind in his sails heading into 2017.
A physically-imposing mound presence at 6-foot-5 and 235 pounds, Gomber closed 2016 with a very strong performance in the Arizona Fall League prospect showcase. Specifically, the Florida native finished first in the entire AFL in wins, strikeouts and innings pitched and was second among starters in ERA. MLB Pipeline’s (the MLB.com minor league folks) exclusive 12-man All-AFL Team included Gomber.
All indicators were positive.
In fact, one scout in Arizona called Gomber “a left-handed Lance Lynn,” quite a compliment, in my opinion. Thinking about it more, though, the comparison may be more physical than it is about stuff. Lynn’s fastball is really three offerings, a four-seamer, a cutter and a sinker. Further, Lynn can dial it up to 96 to 97 mph when needed, enabling him to get away with throwing primarily fastballs. Gomber lacks that differentiation.
The first caution flags in 2017 flew in big-league spring training. Gomber – who had started the Grapefruit League opening game in 2016 against his Florida Atlantic University alma mater – did not stand out in his second St. Louis camp as a non-roster invitee – nor did he flop.
After allowing four runs in 8 1/3 innings over five outings, Gomber was among the first cuts, announced on March 13. While I thought he had an opportunity to make the Memphis roster out of minor league camp, having to return to Springfield was not surprising since he had only made four Texas League starts in 2016 before heading to the AFL.
However, I predicted Gomber would be among the first Double-A starting pitchers called up to Triple-A. Wow, was I wrong! Not only did that not occur, it did not occur any time during the six-month season – even in September, as Memphis needed a number of reinforcements when St. Louis’ roster expanded. If you look at the current Roster Matrix, you will see the lonely figure of Gomber sitting on top of an otherwise-almost empty Double-A rotation, his peers having been promoted.
Simply put, Gomber’s engine was stuck in neutral while others raced by.
Among the arms to pass Gomber on their way to Memphis during 2017 were Jack Flaherty, Daniel Poncedeleon, Zac Gallen, Dakota Hudson, Sandy Alcantara, Ryan Helsley and Matt Pearce. That is a lot of in-season promotions of starting pitchers.
And as you already know, Flaherty and Alcantara both made their St. Louis debuts while Gomber continued to toil in Springfield.
With Gomber having been the organization’s co-Pitcher of the Year in 2015 (with some prospect named Alex Reyes), expectations should rightfully have been high, yet the results were not there.
There were some rough edges, for sure. That 3.34 full-season ERA indicates a nice recovery, but the 4.10 FIP suggests it could have been considerably worse.
As a fly ball pitcher, perhaps it was not surprising that Gomber tied for third-most home runs allowed in the system with 17, two off a share of the lead. However, with his uneven control, he was also third in free passes issued, just three off the organization lead. Now, in all fairness, the lefty was also fifth in total innings pitched, so his rate stats are more palatable, yet they were far from being anywhere near the best in the system.
Still, those are full-season numbers, and as mentioned, Gomber got things together better in the second half. Or more accurately, as the monthly splits table below affirm, he really logged four consecutive subpar months followed by a truly-dominating August to salvage the year.
(Note that in his May, which looked ok on the surface with a 3.74 ERA, he was really fortunate. Rarely does a pitcher with a 1.66 WHIP fare that well.)
As the monthly results continued to fall short of expectations, Gomber began a slow, but steady drop in my monthly Cardinals prospect rankings. My #19 vote this fall indicated a greater weight was placed on his April through July performance than his final month rebound.
Yet, his August was so good that both the Texas League and the Cardinals organization gave him their respective Pitcher of the Month awards.
So, for the third consecutive year, Gomber headed into his off-season with substantial momentum. Further, he was among the four prospects the Cardinals protected from the Rule 5 Draft with his placement onto the 40-man roster in November.
While many starters are eventually converted to relief to realize their potential, a year ago, I thought Gomber’s arsenal should be good enough for him to become a mid-to-back of the rotation starter in the Majors. I am less sure now, especially for the pitching-rich Cardinals.
Last year, I gave Gomber a Scouting Grade of “5 Medium,” reflecting a ceiling of a #3 to #5 starter but with more to show to get there. Had Gomber not put it together in August, he would have been downgraded, but for now, I am sticking with that assessment.
Having a lefty in the St. Louis rotation again after the departure of Jaime Garcia following the 2016 season would be nice, but it is not a necessity. Gomber still represents the organization’s best shot, but neither is the opportunity yet there nor is he ready.
In the spring, it will be important for Gomber to get out of the gates strongly. To remain in the derby for a starting spot in St. Louis, he cannot afford a repeat of 2017.
Our 2018 top 50 series continues
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