Gomez Growing More Confident

Gomez is hitting .411 in his last 33 games

As Carlos Gomez continued to add to what would end as an 18-game hitting streak - the longest string in the Eastern League this year - the Binghamton Mets centerfielder seemed to prove a point, in a way.

Assigned the task of filling the leadoff hitter's role for Juan Samuel's B-Mets squad to open the season, the 20-year-old Gomez struggled, batting just .205 in April and .219 in May.

But as the weather warmed, so did Gomez's bat, which just happened to coincide with his movement lower in Binghamton's batting order. Gomez started his 18-game hit streak on June 29 and kept hitting through the month of July, putting up a sizzling .406 (41-for-101) average for the month.

Those results were of little coincidence. Viewed as one of the Mets' top prospects for his high ceiling and raw ability, Carlos Gomez said he disliked serving as a table-setter atop the lineup, instead preferring to hit in the heart of the order.

"For leadoff, I have to put the ball in play, and I changed my swing," Gomez said. "When I moved down in the lineup - six, five - I [can] swing hard for a big guy in the lineup. That's what I like."

Gomez burst onto the prospect scene last season with the Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League, batting .275 with eight home runs, 48 RBI and an organization-leading 64 stolen bases in 88 attempts.

It is that explosive quickness - on a traditional 20 to 80 scale used by professional scouts, it is not uncommon to see Gomez's speed ranked a perfect 80 - that intrigues the Mets. Many consider Gomez to be the fastest player in the entire organization, even more so than major league sparkplug Jose Reyes.

"[The Mets] think I'm fast, so they put me leadoff," Gomez said. "There's nobody on the team faster than me. That's why they put me leadoff, but I don't like that."

Expected by many to start the year with Class-A St. Lucie of the Florida State League, Gomez instead found himself in upstate New York, challenged by the organization to test his considerable talents with a jump to Double-A.

Almost immediately, Gomez struggled, batting just .220 through the first three months of the season, bothered by cold weather and missing two weeks in June with a back injury.

A strength training program at the Mets' training complex in Port St. Lucie, Fla. allowed Gomez to return to Binghamton more powerful than before, and also provided time for some perspective on Double-A to sink in.

"It's hard, this league," Gomez said. "Every pitcher throws a breaking ball [for strike one] and you think, 'He won't throw that again.' Then he does, and you take it [for a] strike. Then he throws it again, strike three. That's why you need an approach to stay inside the ball and you need to see more pitches."

On that, Samuel would agree. Gomez's peripheral numbers - he was batting .291 with six home runs, 37 RBI and 30 steals entering play on Aug. 8 - have rebounded nicely from a slow start. But Samuel said Gomez has room to grow.

"He was one of those players that they wanted to push, and they wanted him to be here," Samuel said. "They knew he was going to struggle to start. It's going to be up to him to learn and make adjustments.

"I still think he needs a lot of work. He's still very, very raw. His whole game needs to be refined, for me. The best thing on him is that the tools are there. It's just a matter of him knowing situations and when to do things."

First and foremost, Samuel said, Gomez's plate discipline needs improvement.

He struck out 88 times in 487 at-bats last season at Hagerstown and had fanned 70 times in his first 337 at-bats for Binghamton this year, largely because of Gomez's preference to take big cuts at pitches instead of putting the ball in play and using his speed.

"He's getting some hits now, but I would like to stop seeing him swing for the fences, for one thing," Samuel said. "I think he'll be a leadoff type hitter, and the way he swings the bat at times doesn't give any indication that he understands what it takes to be a leadoff guy. …

"If he doesn't think he's a leadoff hitter and he's got that in his mind, that's probably why he's swinging hard. He's young and he's only 20 years old. He's going to learn his body and learn his swing, and that'll tell you what kind of player he's going to be."

Samuel points out Gomez's extra-base hits are relatively scarce when compared to some of his power-hitting teammates - through 92 games, Gomez had 17 doubles, seven triples and six home runs, with 15 of those extra-base hits coming during his hot July.

"We've got him hitting down [in the order] just so he can relax a little bit," Samuel said. "In the leadoff spot, he was not taking a whole lot of pitches. He went into spells where he would bear down, and then he'd go into spells where it looked like he didn't want the catcher to catch one."

Still, when the topic of batting leadoff is broached, Gomez averts his eyes and shakes his head. Subscribing to the idea of 'see the ball, hit the ball,' it may prove difficult for Gomez to improve his walks totals, having earned just 17 free passes through Aug. 6.

"I can't hit like that," Gomez said. "I like to swing. If you don't swing, you don't hit."

With the B-Mets reeling off 12 straight victories and winning 22 of 27 games in July, Gomez may have a chance to experience postseason action for the first time. He was an idle observer for Hagerstown's South Atlantic League exit in the finals, due to injury.

But regardless of whether or not playoff baseball returns to Binghamton's NYSEG Stadium, Gomez said he considers his 2006 campaign to date a success.

He's also bold enough to predict that 2007 - if he's back in the Eastern League - will be even better.

"This is a big year in my life," Gomez said. "I know more [about] baseball and I think more. I say, if I come back to Binghamton next year, I'll hit .350. I know this league and I know what [pitchers] throw me, you know? I have more confidence and no pressure."

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