Former Speed Demon OF Anthony Gose Could Ride 100 MPH Fastball Back to Majors

Danny KnoblerMLB Lead WriterJuly 3, 2017

Photo courtesy of Tom Hagerty

Anthony Gose didn't want to pitch.

He made that clear, to his coach and to every one of the scouts who came to see him in Bellflower, California, in the days and weeks leading up to the 2008 baseball draft. And just in case they missed the message, Gose made sure to tell the Los Angeles Times the same thing.

No matter how many times anyone asked, he said he was an outfielder. He was not a pitcher.

"If I didn't have to do it again, I wouldn't even miss it," he told the Times.

Nine years later, he's doing it again.

He's pitching, showing off the same fastball the scouts wanted all those years ago, the one Gose wouldn't let them have then. He's lighting up radar guns in Class A for now, but he could be on a fast track back to the major leagues, where he was last seen as a speedy outfielder who just couldn't hit enough.

"We'll see where it goes," Detroit Tigers minor league pitching coordinator A.J. Sager told Bleacher Report. "But I can tell you what I've seen so far is exciting."

It's also fascinating, because while it's hardly unheard of for one-time position players to transition to pitching, almost all of them (Kenley Jansen, Sean Doolittle, Troy Percival, Trevor Hoffman, to name four) made the switch before ever reaching the major leagues.

Gose, though, spent parts of five seasons as an outfielder in the big leagues, the first three with the Toronto Blue Jays and the last two with the Tigers. He could run and he could play defense, but he struck out too often (353 times in 1,252 plate appearances) and struggled to get on base (.309 career on-base percentage).

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When the Tigers saw more of the same this past spring, they told Gose he wasn't going to make their Opening Day roster. He told them he was finally ready to give pitching another try. One extremely impressive bullpen session later, the Tigers decided this was an experiment worth pursuing.

That was in late March.

By late May, Gose pitched in a professional game for the first time, making news when his first pitch for Class A Lakeland was clocked at 99 mph. By the middle of last week, he had nine appearances in relief and a 9.72 ERA that is misleadingly high.

Two of his Lakeland outings were bad (nine batters faced, two hits, four walks and a hit batter). But seven of his last eight have been very good (8.0 innings, no runs, two hits, one walk, 12 strikeouts combined).

Oh, and that 99 mph fastball? Since then, Gose has touched triple digits.

And while the Tigers originally sold him on the pitching plan by telling him he could also keep working as an outfielder, Gose doesn't have a single at-bat this season.

He's a pitcher, and by all accounts, he's committed to it, although through his agent he declined an interview request.

For now, his pitching will have to speak for itself. Given the triple-digit fastball, a clean repeatable delivery and the makings of a good changeup and breaking ball, it's already speaking loudly.

Gose may have a major league future yet—in a big league bullpen.

Maybe even this season.

"In a perfect world, he'll work his way through the system this year and we'll see if there's interest in Detroit," said Dave Littlefield, the Tigers' vice president of player development. "The talent is there. My guess is it will happen."

Nine years ago, there was plenty of interest from major league teams. Scouts phoned Bellflower High all the time, asking when the 17-year-old kid with a 97 mph fastball would be on the mound.

Gose had a 0.63 ERA as a high school senior, allowing just 22 hits in 71 innings while striking out 124 and walking just 21.

When Baseball America previewed the 2008 draft, the magazine listed Gose as a pitcher, declaring he had "perhaps the strongest left arm of any Southern California high school pitching prospect since Bill Bordley, a first-round pick in the mid-1970s."

There was only one problem. Gose didn't want to be drafted as a pitcher. The day scouts from the Philadelphia Phillies arrived to watch Gose in a workout, he told then-Phillies scouting director Marti Wolever: "My coach wants me to pitch, but I don't want to pitch."

His coach was Keith Tripp, who believed then and still believes now that Gose's best chance at big league success would be on the mound.

"I thought he was going to be a pitcher," Tripp said. "But he told me, 'I'm only pitching because you want me to pitch. I like playing outfield. I want to play every day.'"

Gose was a two-way player in high school, mostly an outfielder as a sophomore but eventually more as a pitcher when he was a junior and senior.

While his high school coach in California saw him as a pitcher, Gose showed off his swing for scouts at a Perfect Game USA showcase.
While his high school coach in California saw him as a pitcher, Gose showed off his swing for scouts at a Perfect Game USA showcase.Perfect Game

"One day against Hawthorne High School, he struck out 12 in five innings," Tripp said. "One of the kids, I'll never forget this, Anthony threw a first-pitch fastball and the kid took it. The coach said to him, 'Swing the bat.' The kid stepped out and held up his bat, as if to say, 'You want me to hit this?'"

Another day, Gose was pitching against Long Beach Wilson High, which featured current New York Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks. Hicks singled the first time up, but the next time Gose struck him out.

"He threw hard," Hicks remembered. "He always had a really good arm."

He just didn't want to pitch. Fortunately for Gose, there was a professional team that wanted him to play the outfield.

The Phillies were on their way to the World Series title in 2008, but that June they had three of the first 51 picks in the draft, as compensation for losing free-agent outfielder Aaron Rowand to the San Francisco Giants. They passed on Gose with the 24th and 34th overall picks (taking high school players who didn't end up making it to the major leagues), and then, with the 51st pick, they announced:

Anthony Gose, Bellflower High School, outfielder.

"We liked him as an outfielder first," said Wolever, who now works as a scout with the Tigers. "I thought the way he ran and threw, he could be an impact guy offensively and defensively. And I thought he had a very good chance to hit."

Tim Kissner, the Phillies area scout who saw Gose the most, remembered seeing him make spectacular catches.

"He'd turn his back on the plate and catch it over the shoulder, a la Jim Edmonds," Kissner said.

The Phillies gave Gose a $772,000 signing bonus and sent him to their Gulf Coast League rookie team in Florida. Two years later, they traded him to the Toronto Blue Jays as part of a three-team deadline deal that sent Roy Oswalt to the Phillies.

Gose played parts of three seasons with the Blue Jays.
Gose played parts of three seasons with the Blue Jays.Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

By 2012, Gose was in the major leagues. Back in California, Tripp was thinking how cool it was that a kid who many thought should be a pitcher had made it as an outfielder.

"His first game was at Yankee Stadium," Tripp said. "The first ball hit to him was by Derek Jeter."

A month later, after a 4-for-36 slump, Gose was back in Triple-A.

It was more of the same over the next two years. Gose was good enough to get to the big leagues but not good enough to stay. In 2014 alone, he was called up from Triple-A Buffalo six times only to get sent back down (twice after appearing in just one game).

Every now and then, someone would even suggest putting him on the mound.

"It came up briefly in conversations, but we never spent much time on it," said Alex Anthopoulos, the Blue Jays general manager at the time. "We were more focused on trying to develop him as a position player."

That winter, the Blue Jays traded Gose to the Tigers for second baseman Devon Travis.

Gose spent all of 2015 in the major leagues, but in 2016 he was back on the Triple-A shuttle. And eventually on the Double-A shuttle, after a much-publicized dugout spat with Toledo manager Lloyd McClendon.

Gose batted .254 and stole 23 bases in 140 games with the Tigers in 2015.
Gose batted .254 and stole 23 bases in 140 games with the Tigers in 2015.Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

"It was just a heat-of-the-battle thing," said McClendon, now the Tigers hitting coach. "It was about defensive alignment, and he didn't agree. I told him, 'You play, I manage.' People blew it out of proportion like you wouldn't believe.

"Anthony Gose is a good kid. He doesn't have a malicious bone in his body."

He just couldn't hit enough to stay in the big leagues. But he could still throw.

Twice while he was with the Tigers, Gose made throws from the outfield that clocked at better than 100 mph, according to MLB.com. By the end of the 2016 season, the idea of putting him back on the mound was gaining steam.

Gose came to spring training as an outfielder, but in a healthy 42 plate appearances in 16 Grapefruit League games, he hit just .237 and struck out 15 times.

They told him he wasn't going to make the team. He told them he'd be willing to give pitching a try.

His initial bullpen sessions were encouraging—"The ball just jumped out of his hand," Sager said—but Gose still wasn't sure.

As recently as this March, Gose was still trying to stick in the major leagues as an outfielder.
As recently as this March, Gose was still trying to stick in the major leagues as an outfielder.Mark Cunningham/Getty Images

"He doesn't want to give up on center field," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus told reporters at the end of spring. "He feels there's a possibility he will be forgotten as an outfielder."

The Tigers left Gose in extended spring training, where they said he could get some at-bats but also work on the transition to the mound. He added a breaking ball to the fastball and changeup he threw in his initial bullpen sessions, and worked on the other skills needed to become a professional pitcher.

"There's still a lot to learn," Sager said. "Fielding his position, holding runners, setting up hitters. But he's a good athlete. Generally speaking, when there's a pop-up, the pitcher is the last guy you want touching the ball. He's the first guy. Even over our shortstop, he's got priority to catch a pop-up."

By the end of April, Gose was appearing in extended spring training games. A month later, he was ready for the Florida State League, making his professional mound debut in a game for Lakeland against the Palm Beach Cardinals.

Dan Lauer, the Flying Tigers assistant general manager, tweeted a picture of the first pitch:

Dan Lauer @Dan_Lauer41

Anthony Gose making his debut pitching with our @LkdFlyingTigers. First pitch 99mph. @tigers @DetroitTigersPR @gose https://t.co/wHkxJEZSPq

Wolever, the scouting director who committed to Gose as a hitter, saw him throw an inning in Lakeland and now believes in him as a pitcher.

"He made it look easy," Wolever said. "I laughed and said it looked like he had never left it."

Back in California, Tripp watched a YouTube video of Gose pitching for Lakeland.

"I think he will be successful," Tripp said. "He really will. I believe in him."

With every 99 mph fastball Gose throws, the Tigers start to believe a little more. Presumably, Gose does, too.

"He's fully committed to it," said Wolever, who spoke with Gose in Lakeland.

Now they'll see where it goes.


Danny Knobler covers Major League Baseball as a national columnist for Bleacher Report.

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