Lakeland, Fla. – Tigers hitting coach Wally Joyner is a funny guy. Ask him about his plans for working with center fielder Anthony Gose and he looks you in the eye and with a straight face says, "I think we still want him to hit left-handed. We're going to stay with that."
But seriously folks, what the Tigers really want, and need, is for Gose to be considerably more productive than his .234 average, .301 on base percentage and .332 slugging percentage in 616 plate appearance over parts of three seasons in Toronto.
"I think he's going to get some hits because of his speed and that always helps," manager Brad Ausmus said. "He was a big prospect. This is not a guy who came out of nowhere. Sometimes it just takes time for players to get more comfortable at the Major League level.
"I would be very surprised if he hits .200. I expect he will hit significantly higher."
Enter Joyner. He began studying film of Gose the minute the Tigers acquired him back in November for infield prospect Devon Travis. He saw some things that he could work on and work with, and during the Tigers winter caravan last month he pulled Gose aside for an impromptu hitting lesson.
"He's a very athletic guy and I think he's going to surprise some people," Joyner said on Saturday. "I think he's a very talented outfielder that has a lot of confidence and I think that's going to go a long way."
Joyner didn't want to get into the specifics of what he sees right or wrong with Gose's swing or approach at the plate, only to say it wouldn't require a major reconstruction.
"With the technology we have and the cameras and the ability to slow everything down, I think you can see that even Tony Gwynn had some flaws," Joyner said. "What you have to do is not get overly analytical, get him in an athletic position and let his talent go.
"There is a reason why he's up here, it's because he's talented. A lot of times it's a matter of freeing him up, freeing anybody up, and allowing them to be themselves."
Gose was a high school phenom – hitting .443, with a .618 on base percentage and 31 steals in his senior season at Bellflower High in California. He was also a pitcher with a fastball topping out at 97 mph.
The Phillies took him in the second round before trading him to the Blue Jays in the Roy Halladay trade. As recently as 2011, he was considered one of the top outfield prospects in baseball. He stole 76 bases in 2009 and an Eastern League record 70 at Double-A New Hampshire in 2011.
He also showed some power, hitting 15 homers in Double-A and 10 in Triple-A. Scouts were penciling him for 12 to 15 homers a year at the Major League level.
But that hasn't happened, yet – not the power (five career homers) and not the consistent on-base numbers. He has struck out 170 times and walked just 47 in 616 plate appearances.
"We understand that hitting is very difficult," Joyner said. "And with that it's going to take some time. He's got a great attitude. He's trying to duplicate his swing, which is very important to do. Hopefully he can find something that will allow his talent to be shown."
The Tigers are giving the 24-year-old Gose every chance to be the primary center fielder this season mostly because of his defense. The Tigers were a minus-65 in defensive runs saved – only two teams were worse – and the lack of range in the outfield after Austin Jackson was traded was a big part of that.
"When we traded Jax, we didn't really have a quote-unquote true center fielder," Ausmus said. "Rajai (Davis) filled in nicely. But in Gose we have a guy who is a true center fielder, which brings us back to an Austin Jackson-style defense in the outfield."
The question, though, is can the Tigers afford to play Gose every day if he's hitting below .230, especially if the initial plan is to bat him second against right-handed pitchers.
"It really depends on what's happening," Ausmus said, meaning how the rest of the lineup is producing. "But I really think he's ready to become the Major League player that people thought he'd be. I hope we don't have to worry about that.
"But you can live with (Gose hitting .230). I played 18 years and I hit .230 in a number of them. So, yeah, you can live with it."
Chris McCosky on Twitter @cmccosky