PHOENIX -- After three mostly maddeningly inconsistent seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, Carlos Gomez finally put it all together in 2013.
Gomez not only was named to the All-Star Game for the first time in his seven-year major-league career, but he also became the first Brewers player to win a Gold Glove in 31 years in being voted the premier defensive centerfielder in the National League.
It was just the type of year Milwaukee management was hoping Gomez would put together when it signed him a three-year, $24 million contract extension last March 13 that ties him to the club through 2016.
Now the question becomes how much untapped potential remains in a 28-year-old who should be entering his physical prime?
Gomez himself believes there is more to come.
"I'm confident that I can continue to make progress," Gomez said Saturday morning before the opening of full-squad workouts.
"I had the time in the off-season to look at it, my weaknesses, watching a lot of video to try and get better. That's what it's all about -- being consistent, concentrating and being honest about yourself and what you can do to get better."
In his first season as the Brewers' unquestioned starter in center, Gomez did it all.
He put up career highs across the board offensively by hitting .284 with 24 home runs, 73 runs batted in and scoring 80 runs in 590 plate appearances. He legged out 10 triples, tying him for second in the NL with teammate Jean Segura and Pittsburgh's Sterling Marte, and stole 40 bases.
Add in his Gold Glove performance in center, where he was credited with a major-league-leading 38 defensive runs saved and five home-run-saving catches to go along with 12 assists, and his ninth-place finish in NL MVP balloting on a sub-.500 team was well-earned.
At the plate, Gomez made major strides.
Despite hitting in every spot 1-8 in the lineup last season, Gomez still bettered his previous career-high batting average by 24 points while upping his on-base percentage to .338. The increased power numbers and run production were crucial for a Brewers offense battered by injuries, but it was his improved patience that belied a more mature overall approach.
"It's the mental part that allowed Carlos to have the year he had last year and the improvement that he's going to have in the future," said manager Ron Roenicke.
"He's got the physical tools. Whether he swings hard at the plate, whether he tries to go the other way, all the extra thinking doesn't seem to work. He needs to stay aggressive. He's learning to zone pitches better at the plate. The improvement at the plate, for me, is definitely because he doesn't swing at everything anymore.
"When I saw him in Minnesota early in his career, you threw him a fastball up here and he swung; you threw him a curveball in the dirt and he swung. He's learned to take those pitches. The more he takes them and the more the zone becomes an area where he can hit, it gets scary for a pitcher because he's really a good hitter in this area. He gets in trouble when he starts expanding it."
There were still the occasional first-pitch pop-ups with runners in scoring position, and a few bats broken over his knee after Gomez struck out, and there will continue to be moving forward. Those moments were just fewer than in years past.
That's all part of the deal with a player like Gomez, who believes Roenicke's patience with his aggressive nature has helped him grow into a more well-rounded and successful hitter.
"It means everything," Gomez said. "If I don't have that kind of manager, the team that we have, I'd probably never be the player that I am now. Ron gives me the green light to do the stuff that I want to do, then everything starts right away.
"For five years, all the coaches and managers I have, they tell me, 'Hit the ball on the ground and run.' They don't realize I'm 6-3, (218) pounds and I'm strong. I'm going to start swinging the bat free and put everything together."
Another career high for Gomez was his 147 games played. He missed a handful with a sprained shoulder and a sprained knee suffered while crashing into the wall, a byproduct of his all-out style of play in center, and he's previously been felled by serious injuries like a broken collarbone while trying to make catches.
Knowing a team like the Brewers can ill afford to lose key contributors to injury, as was demonstrated in 2013, Gomez tries to stay mindful that there's a fine line between aggressiveness and recklessness.
"The experience is going to teach you how to play," said Gomez. "Every year you learn how to protect yourself and stay in the game. It's better to give a double away than spend five or six days out of the lineup. I have all the games on tape and I am looking every day in the off-season, what I'm doing or what I'm not.
"I might make a small change (in my play). I'm not going to say I'm not going to be aggressive, because I'm always going to play like that. I think if you are a fan coming to watch a baseball game, you want to see a guy like me giving everything they have every single day.
"You have to be smart sometimes and control yourself to try and keep myself on the field."
Gomez is fully recovered from arthroscopic surgery on his right elbow in October. For the second straight off-season he didn't play winter ball, instead rehabbing the elbow, resting and then beginning workouts in January.
Now he enters 2014 heading into the prime of his career, comfortable with what he's done and eager to accomplish even more.
"I mean, you have to enjoy it," he said with a smile. "This is what you work for, and you see how everything comes. It hasn't come easy for me, you know. It didn't come in one day. I have to work. It took me, like, six years to be the player I am right now. It's not a gift.
"I worked, day and night. Thinking, working -- it's not easy to do. I prepare myself to be consistent, and I think that's helped me get better, be a better person, a better player and better in everything."
BY THE NUMBERS
1 Game Gomez was suspended for after helping incite a brawl Sept. 25 at Atlanta. Gomez served the suspension Sept. 26.
2 Centerfielders to make the All-Star Game in Brewers history. Davey May (1973) is the other.
14 Consecutive games Gomez collected a hit in 2013, from April 23-May 8. That was the longest streak by a Brewer in 2013.
.295 Gomez's batting average in 2013 when swinging at the first pitch.
.196 Gomez's batting average in 2013 with two outs and runners in scoring position.
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