Interview: Carlos Gomez, MLB scout

Those of you who used to check on this website back in the days of yore (specifically, 2007) might remember a series of articles breaking down the mechanics of various players of major leaguers and notable prospects. Author Carlos Gomez was a former minor league pitcher with a sharp eye for those little details the rest of us miss when we watch a game. Certainly the Arizona Diamondbacks thought rather well of his work, because they hired him as a scout last fall.

Gomez might be gone as a contributing writer, but for one day at least, he’s back as an interview subject.

Can you tell us a little about yourself (age, background, family—general stuff)?

Thirty years old, married, no kids unless you count my dog (Keyser Soze) who my wife treats as our son. Born and raised in Puerto Rico, where my parents still reside. Got my industrial engineering degree from Purdue University. Currently living in Atlanta, Ga. Oh, and I like baseball.

What was your favorite subject in school as a kid? Least favorite?

You asked for one, but I’ll give you three: history, math and science. I’m sure that I’m not alone in that baseball statistics taught me decimals and fractions. How else is a kid supposed to learn that 2 for 7 is .286? Least favorite subject was religion.

Growing up, were you always a baseball fan? Who was your favorite player as a kid?

Oh my goodness yes. I had many favorites that I would try to emulate. My first “favorite” was Joel Youngblood, who hit the first live home run that I ever saw. Had a chance to finally meet him this year (he’s one of our coaches) and tell him that he was my first idol. Being a huge Tigers fan through my early years, I was especially a fan of Mickey Tettleton, Lou Whitaker and Rob Deer. Remember Tettleton’s stance? Yeah, I copied it. Props to my dad for letting me try all those weird stances. I don’t know how I’d feel if my son went up there with Tettleton’s stance at age 12.

When I turned to pitching, Nolan Ryan was the idol of choice (had the high leg kick and everything). I worshiped Nolan for years, but others came along. Mid-to-late-90s besides the obvious ones (Maddux, Smoltz, RJ, Kevin Brown, etc), I was a fan of pitchers like Jason Grimsley (loved his turbosinker) and Curt Leskanic, whom I remember as having the best arm action I’d ever seen up to that point.

I can’t not mention Mike Koplove, Byung Hyun Kim and, of course, Chad Bradford. Those guys showed me how to be a sidearmer.

How many different MLB ballparks have you been to? Favorite? Least favorite?

I was lucky that my dad took me to see quite a few MLB parks, though I don’t know the exact number. And of course now I get to see many of them when I’m scouting. As a fan, best experience in an MLB park was Wrigley Field. It didn’t hurt that it was Cardinals-Cubs, we sat in the bleachers AND got to see McGwire take BP. Worst was old Exhibition Stadium in Toronto.

When did you start playing? Were you always a pitcher?

Debuted at age 8. I think we all start playing right field, and I was no exception. Once I got decent, I was a catcher for the most part. Started concentrating on pitching at about 13.

What was your best pitch?

What made me stand out at ages 14-17 or so is that I had a really good changeup and a pretty good curve as well. Not many pitchers at my age threw effective changeups when I was growing up, so it made me kind of unique. I owe the changeup to Cesar Sostre, an ex-pro and good friend who taught me Frank Viola‘s grip on it and how to throw it.

Was there a particular moment you thought you could make it as a professional baseball player?

At around 16, people were talking about me a little bit. I was really pitching well and gained velocity to go along with the other junk I threw. At that time, I thought I’d be a pro. I blew it at that time because I didn’t dedicate myself enough.

After my difficult college career, I just willed myself into making myself a pro by being as different as possible, as I lacked true talent. It may sound weird, but once I got rid of the bad memories of throwing the ball from a traditional slot, I was able to “let go” and just let it rip. At that point, despite the long odds, I thought I could make it as a ROOGY in the bigs.

How long did you pitch professionally? Who did you play for?

About three years. The teams: Gateway Grizzlies of the Frontier League, Allentown Ambassadors and New Jersey Jackals of the then Northeast League. Also played for Caguas in the Puerto Rico Winter League.

What was your best day on the mound?

Gotta be my Winter ball debut in PR in 2003. Went three innings, gave up a hit, no runs and struck out three. I was VERY nervous, especially since my own fans were heckling me as I was warming up. When you hear stuff like “Throw like a man!!” being yelled at from the stands (sidearm) by your own crowd, well, you start to wonder if you belong there…tough crowd. Won them over though.

Did you have any off-season jobs while working as a player?

Worked as a server in the off-seasons in a few restaurants.

How did your playing career end? What made you decide to move on?

It was ended for me, really. I wanted to play in ’06 and thought I still had something to offer. Went to a few tryouts, no one wanted me. At that time, you start thinking that it’s time to move on.

When was the last time you pitched? I don’t just mean professionally, but in any context. How often do you do that nowadays?

I was giving pitching lessons last year and kept myself in decent pitching shape and I would practice throwing to a net (with a radar gun and a camera of course) once or twice a week. I’d say that the last time I did that was in February of ’07. I was routinely sitting 86-87 topping at 90 (very proud of that, by the way). A lot of it was so that I could relate to the things I was trying to teach and also because I was using myself as a guinea pig for some of my “out there” ideas. Students tend to believe you more when you can do some of the things that you try to teach them. It didn’t hurt to show students some velocity to show them what it looked like.

What first got you interested in the mechanics of baseball? I realize players as a rule have some interest, but most minor league pitchers don’t end up becoming pro scouts, so I assume you had a special interest in it.

Cesar Sostre (the guy who taught me the changeup) gave me Seaver’s book The Art of Pitching. That really got it started. Then my dad bought me Nolan Ryan’s Pitcher’s Bible. He also let me videotape myself throwing against a wall in our backyard so that I could learn how to copy Ryan’s delivery more closely. It’s weird though—I always remember paying attention to how the big leaguers did it, even at an early age.

After college, when I was trying to re-create myself as a sidewinder, I got REALLY heavy into mechanics thanks to Paul Nyman, Jeff Albert and a few others. I remember being really impressed with what Tom House taught us in a one-day lesson he gave us at Purdue.

What did you do for a living in between playing baseball and becoming a scout?

Worked in restaurants, gave pitching lessons. Out of college, before getting the baseball bug again, I was training to be a territory manager for Carrier, the air conditioning company. I was supposed to use my engineering degree towards a “real job”….damn baseball bug…hehe.

How did you land a job as scout with the D-backs?

I started blasting teams with e-mails last September/October with all the stuff that I had done at BTF and THT. I talked with a few teams. Before anything substantial happened with any of the other teams, Jerry DiPoto called me, impressed me and then blew me away with an offer that I couldn’t possibly refuse. I remember telling Jerry that I wanted to talk it over with my wife one last time before I accepted and that I’d call him back in an hour. Yeah, right. I called him back in 20 minutes. Easy decision.

What sort of scouting do you do? Focus just on pitchers or hitters or both? Look at minor leaguers or big leaguers or both? Jack of all trades?

Majors and minors. Every player that is on one of my assigned teams gets a report.

How much time do you spend on the road? In the last six months, about how many nights have you spent in hotel rooms?

In six months, about 100 hotel nights. Some of my teams are a commute away. The Braves, for example, are a 10-minute drive from me. In those cases, I’d commute and come home after the game.

Where do you sit when scouting a game?

Right behind home plate for the most part. In minor league parks, there’s usually more freedom to move around and catch side shots of hitters and pitchers.

Do you and other scouts ever pick each other’s brains about prospects?

Yup.

Do you ever ask fans sitting around you what they think about players?

Sure. I’ll ask ushers and fans who their favorites are. Especially in the minors, I know they’ve seen those players more than I have. So why not ask them? It doesn’t mean that I’ll agree with them, but sometimes you get some info that you wouldn’t have gotten by not asking them.

Aside from watching the game and players, what else does your job consist of?

Filing a bunch of reports on those players.

What’s the best part of being a scout?

You mean besides watching and evaluating baseball players for a living? I enjoy the challenge of figuring out what Player X is going to be in the future despite the relatively brief look that I’ll get on most of them. There’s also a great amount of satisfaction when you see a player and you say “gotcha, I know exactly who you’ll be.” This will sound a bit crazy, but equally satisfying is the internal struggle, self-doubt and a bit of uneasiness when it doesn’t come to you right away. You put so much work into trying to figure out who he’ll be and eventually, it comes to you and you are able to send a confident evaluation of who that player will be.

What’s the worst part of being a scout?

The time away from home will get to me at times. Other than that, the worst part is when I fall behind on reports. There’s times when I have these little baseball research projects that I’ll want to do. They usually stem from something that I saw that day or from these theories that are floating in my head. Anyway, I should be using that time to write reports and not fall behind, because they’ll pile up in a hurry.

What, if anything, can scouts learn from sabermetrics?

The more (and better) information and analysis that you can get your hands on to help you figure out the player, the better.

What, if anything, can sabermetrics learn from scouts?

Baseball players are human beings prone to the same emotions that everyone goes through. They’re not just contracts, VORPs, ERAs, OPSs, WARPs and statistical projections. There’s an immense value in seeing the player, how he reacts, how he carries himself on and off the field. Not to mention that when evaluating a player’s swing or delivery, the crispness of his pitches, efficiency of motion…I could go on and on.

What do you do in the off-season when MLB shuts down?

“People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

Who is the nicest person you’ve ever met in baseball?

Outside of the D-Backs, that would have to be Van Smith, a scout for the Padres. He’s the one person outside of the organization that taught me how to conduct myself as a professional and what a privilege it is to have this job.

Will Arizona win it all in 2009?

I developed a projection system in the last five minutes. After 1,000,000 simulations (all done in my head), the system says we’ll go 112-50 and win the World Series in five. Hey, I’m just relaying information here.

OK, now for my favorite part—STUPID STUFF! What are five (non-baseball related) places you’d like see in the world if money was no object and you could go on any vacations that you wanted?

UK (specifically Scotland), Australia, Japan, Brazil, Mars (you said money was no object, right?)

What do you like on your pizza?

Anything but those greenish things people call vegetables. Meat Lover’s is the way to go.

Who was the biggest crush you’ve ever had on a celebrity?

Jennifer Garner.

What was your favorite toy as a kid?

Pre-video game era, my Masters of the Universe action figures. Or was it my Millennium Falcon? I’d have to ask my mom.

What is the most overrated film you’ve ever seen?

Reservoir Dogs

Junk food of choice?

Dairy Queen’s Chocolate Xtreme blizzard. I finally gave you a specific answer.

Who are you voting for in this year’s presidential election?

My candidate ranks, using the 20-80 scouting scale. Ron Paul—70, Barack Obama—55, McCain—20. I voted early and voted for Obama, despite several substantial disagreements with his policies. Really wanted to vote my conscience and write Ron Paul in, but it appears that Georgia will be closer than anticipated and well, let’s just say I’m not a big fan of McCain.

And last, but certainly not least—favorite ballpark food?

Cheeseburgers. Best cheeseburger this year, by far, was the one I had at the Low-A affiliate of the Mariners, the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers.

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