Tigers' Anthony Gose draws Devon White comparisons

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Anthony Gose

Detroit — At the winter meetings in San Diego last month, a conversation was struck up with a couple media folks from Toronto.

The topic: Anthony Gose.

Their take: He has the potential to be an even better defensive center fielder than Devon White, the Blue Jays legend who won seven Gold Gloves in the 1980s and '90s.

The reaction: Seriously?

"Yes, yes!" Rajai Davis was saying Saturday, at TigerFest. "Absolutely, he has the potential to be one of the best in the game."

Davis knows Gose from their time together in Toronto. They were teammates in the major leagues in 2012 and '13.

And Davis has no problems comparing Gose to White, whom Davis tried to mimic as a kid growing up in Connecticut — even trying to catch flyballs in stride, with the glove at his midsection.

"My wrist doesn't flex that much," said Davis, laughing. "Man, how does he do it? I don't know anybody who can catch the ball like this."

Gose's defense is why the Tigers acquired him in a November trade that sent highly regarded prospect Devon Travis to the Blue Jays. Davis said Gose's arm is amazing — "one of the best arms," and that's not usually the case with a center fielder — and his range is impressive. He makes defense look easy.

And that's important at Comerica Park, where there's a lot of ground to cover — and where the corners will be manned in 2015 by two guys who have good arms, but lack great coverage, in Yoenis Cespedes and J.D. Martinez.

"He's really a dynamic player," Davis said of Gose. "He's got all the tools to really be a great player."

So what's the rub?

Simple. It's the offense.

Gose, a top 50 prospect in baseball before the 2012 season, hasn't been able to stick in a major-league lineup because he hasn't hit. His slash over 202 games in three seasons is .234/.301/.332. It's been much more impressive in seven seasons in the minor leagues.

"You have to be able to stay in that lineup, and a major part of staying in that lineup is hitting," said Davis, who knows this — as his breakout offensive season in 2014 turned him from a platoon guy into a more everyday guy. "You can stay in the major leagues with defense and being able to run, but to be able to stay in an everyday role, you're going to have to hit."

If he hits, Gose's speed will become more a weapon. He's stolen 34 bases in 45 attempts in the majors.

The Tigers think he can hit; they just don't know how much. Gose arrived in Detroit early this week, and started working with hitting coach Wally Joyner, who "likes him a lot," manager Brad Ausmus said. Ideally, they'd like to see him approach .250 with a .330 on-base percentage. He could bat down lineup, and that could make him the everyday option in center field, as the left-handed hitter, with Davis the backup, as the right-handed hitter.

But even .250/.330 is no guarantee for a guy who just hasn't done it. The White comparisons are fine and dandy, but White was only an impact major-leaguer because he could hit. Coming to Detroit could end up helping Gose, though. Many hitters — Davis and J.D. Martinez, to name two — have benefited greatly from being around two of the best hitters in the game, Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez, on a daily basis. Gose, he could, too.

"Because you can see day in and day out two of the best players, so if you want to aspire to be like one of the best players, you do similar things that they do, do what they do," Davis said, speaking mostly of preparation. "I think he's willing to work."

He's just not willing to talk much. He gave one- and two-word answers to many media questions this week. Davis attributes that to just trying to stay under the radar.

One of the big knocks on Gose, 24, in Toronto was his mentality. Those close to the Blue Jays say he'd put too much pressure on himself — if he got a start one day, he'd try to go 4-for-4 to get back in the lineup the next day. Ryan Raburn was a lot like that, and eventually fizzled out with the Tigers — become rebounding in a lower-pressure situation with the Indians. The Tigers hope Gose benefits similarly from a change of scenery and lessened expectations.

As for Davis, 34, he said he's feeling good after being hampered by a nasty mid-section strain during the 2014 playoffs. The injury lingered a lot longer than he thought it would. While he was working out five days a week in Connecticut with trainer Tim Yuhas, he didn't start running and sprinting until earlier this month.

"Just getting more explosive, more mobile and flexible," Davis said.

Just not flexible enough to make those Devon White-like catches.

Gose, on the other hand, you never know.