Meaningless Spring Stats: The Yan Gomes Example

Every year it happens in spring training: A previously unknown (by the general fan population and mainstream media) minor league player posts dazzling statistics in spring training and everyone starts singing the praises of said player.

This year it happens to be catcher Yan Gomes, 24, in the Toronto Blue Jays’ spring camp. After Tuesday’s game he was hitting .474 with a slugging percentage of .842 in 19 at-bats. A very impressive performance but this is also a very small-sample size. Check out the Twitter love for Gomes as fans interact with Toronto sports radio personality Mike Wilner.

You’re kidding, right? @CharliePride78: @julianmktr The Jays would be STUPID if they don’t at least put Gomes on roster, as bench plyr!!!

Sample size, please. @CharliePride78: @Wilnerness590 @julianmktr The guy can play 3-4 different positions, he seems 2 be a gr8 hitter!!!

To get a better read on the backstop we have to look to his minor league career, as well as his scouting report. The problem with Gomes, who was drafted out of division II Barry University in the 10th round in ’09, is not his raw ability as much as it is in his approach. His mentality at the plate is what I like to call ‘hack-tastic.’ In his first full season in pro ball in ’10 he walked just 12 times in 259 at-bats. On the plus side he more than doubled that in 2011 at double-A (hitting just .250) but it remains to be seen if the approach sticks.

He’s a free-swinging player whose overall offensive ceiling is limited by his over-aggressive nature, which prevents him from working himself into hitter’s counts and getting better pitches to drive. One of the reasons that spring training stats are more or less useless is that players like Gomes often appear late in games against other minor league players and pitchers – or appear in split squad games which, again, feature a lot of minor league players. As well, big league pitchers are often “working on things” or getting themselves into game shape so you often don’t see the same pitcher that you’d see during the regular season.

Gomes has certainly opened some eyes this spring, rightfully so or not, but he faces a stiff challenge in reaching the Majors in an organization that features a young stater at the big league level in J.P. Arencibia (whom Gomes played with at Tennessee before transferring to Barry), as well as four highly regarded catching prospects: Travis d’Arnaud, A.J. Jimenez, Carlos Perez, and Santiago Nessy. Defensively, Gomes entered pro ball with a reputation for being an average-at-best fielder at the college level. He probably doesn’t have the defensive chops to be an everyday player behind the plate but could probably stick as an offensive-minded back-up who can also play a little first base and third base.

I’m sure it’s been an exciting time for Gomes but fans also need to remember that there are reasons why they haven’t heard about a four-year pro player before in the mainstream media. Scouting reports tend to lie a lot less than small-sample size statistics.

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Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects, depth charts and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.