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Tigers' Gose a finished product in outfield

Lynn Henning
The Detroit News
Anthony Gose bounced between Triple A and the Blue Jays last season, but the Tigers plan to start him in center field.

Lakeland, Fla. — Colleagues who know their way around the Tigers block had issued an advisory about Anthony Gose.

Be prepared for the definitive Mr. Shy Guy, they said, unanimously. Those who had met and talked with Gose during the Tigers Caravan found him civil but tight with his answers. You could quote Gose in single words as opposed to single sentences, they assured.

And so Thursday, after Gose wrapped up batting practice on Tigertown's four-field quadrant, and after he had gracefully gloved a stream of fly balls and liners hit his way, he was approached as he strode, plastic spikes crunching against gravel, en route to the clubhouse.

Might he have a few minutes to, uh, talk?

"Yessir," Gose said, with a smile that was to be recreated at least a dozen times during a 15-minute conversation.

The Tigers have in Gose a new everyday center fielder. He is 24, from the Long Beach direction of Los Angeles, stands 6-foot-1, weighs 190 pounds, bats and throws left-handed, and was unhesitatingly given a starting job with the Tigers even if five times last season the Blue Jays ping-pong-paddled him from Triple A to Toronto and back again. It happens when you're young and hit .226, as Gose did in 2014.

The Tigers had no fears. They traded a good prospect, second baseman Devon Travis, to the Blue Jays in November and made it clear Gose wasn't added for bench depth. He was going to start. Period. He would be assigned the biggest, broadest expanse of outfield turf in the big leagues, center at Comerica Park.

"I've been out there and it seems big," Gose said, sitting at a table outside the Tigers clubhouse at Marchant Stadium on a gray, breezy football-kind of day in Florida. "I haven't been there that much, but it hasn't seemed overwhelming. It's just a big park."

So much for scouting reports Gose would be slightly more vocal than the Sphinx. In fact, a man who acknowledged he was more comfortable at spring camp than he might first have appeared, was as at ease during Thursday's chat as he is in center.

The Tigers have sharp big-league scouts. They know who can play and who's risky and they had seen enough of Gose with the Blue Jays, and in the minors, to conclude his glove, speed, and very good arm would be an answer, defensively, at an extraordinarily important up-the-middle position.

His bat, no one's quite as sure about. The Tigers, though, believe Gose will hit better than he has in 202 big-league games: .234 batting average, .633 OPS, which includes a light .301 on-base percentage.

What you have, at this stage, is a virtually permanent No. 9 batter. But he remains young, with talent the Tigers and batting coach Wally Joyner insist should help forge, in time, a better hitter.

They are working this spring, as Gose said, on "rhythm and loading" the swing — making his bat more of a streamlined weapon that optimizes his athleticism. Of course, we have heard this before about countless players who never quite cracked the hitting code.

Gose buys Detroit's thoughts he will be a better hitter than he was for the Blue Jays. And better than he was as a minor-leaguer for the Astros or Phillies, who drafted him in the second round before he twice became a trade chip in deals for Roy Oswalt and Brett Wallace.

It didn't have to be this way. Gose could have said no to hitting and to tackling a skill that is cruel and a dead-end road for so many aspiring big-leaguers.

That's because he was going to be drafted as a pitcher. Gose, during his days at Bellflower High in Los Angeles, threw in the mid-90s and, he said, topped out at 97 mph. Lefties who can throw mid-90s fastballs anywhere near home plate tend to be gobbled up early in the draft, which is what scouts had suggested would be his route.

"I told 'em I didn't want to pitch," Gose recalled. "I told 'em I wanted to run 'em (fly balls) down. It's a little harder to project a bat making the big leagues. There's a little less work to projecting a 97-mph pitch making it.

"Most any other kid would have pitched. But I knew I wanted to go get 'em and to try and be great out there (center field)."

And that's the player Tigers followers will soon be getting to watch, and perhaps to know, with regularity. The man of supposedly few words isn't so inhibited, after all. The man blessed with obvious skills might surprise a few people there, as well, especially if that bat comes around.