Tampa's versatile Angelo Gumbs becoming a quality second baseman

New York Yankees minor league second baseman Angelo New York Yankees minor league second baseman Angelo Gumbs #21 during a Spring Training game against the Toronto Blue Jays at the Englebert Complex on March 19, 2013 in Dunedin, Florida. (Mike Janes/Four Seam Images via AP Images) Photo Credit: AP Photo Four Seam Images

advertisement | advertise on newsday

TAMPA, Fla. -- He grew up as an outfielder and played primarily at shortstop in high school, so midway through his third full season, Angelo Gumbs is finally starting to feel like a second baseman.

"I watch a lot of big-leaguers, the way they approach the ball at second base," said the Yankees' second-round pick from 2010, just 20 years old. "Obviously [Robinson] Cano and [the Reds'] Brandon Phillips I watch a lot."

Gumbs, signed out of high school in Torrance, Calif., is healthy after missing a month with a strained ligament on the middle finger of his right hand. His batting average for the advanced Class A Yankees is steadily rising after a slow start, and his defense has improved immensely.

"Two years ago, when we started talking about him moving to second base, it was a disaster, to be honest with you," said Tampa Yankees manager Luis Sojo, himself a versatile fielder in his 13 major-league seasons. "He's coming along, big-time. He makes some spectacular plays. He's working on double plays, footwork. He still has a long way to go, but if you put the work in, anything can happen. Eventually, it's going to click."

Gumbs' fielding percentage in his first full pro season, 2011, was .952, but he made progress last year with a .974. He's at .966 now with three errors this season, and he's comfortable enough on defense that he's focusing on improving his batting.

"My goals for the season were to swing at good pitches, have quality at-bats all the time and stay as defensively sound as I can, make all the basic plays and even more," the 6-foot, 175-pound prospect said.

advertisement | advertise on newsday

Gumbs has raised his average to .236 through Friday, well down from .272 last year, but he's starting to flash the speed on the basepaths that has been his most productive tool as a pro. He went 26-for-29 on steals last season, and is 6-for-7 this season.

He has advanced a level each season, despite missing the last two months of last season with a strained triceps. He said each new team has brought a transition period to tougher pitching, but he already is comfortable in the Florida State League, at the plate and in the field.

"I'm starting to learn how to slow the game down for myself, to be able to think ahead," he said. "You have to remember the things they tell you. Think about the situation that's about to happen: If the ball's hit to you, what do you do?''

Gumbs has matured off the field, as well. He and his wife, Kandis, have been married just more than a year, with two children. Their daughter, Hailey, is 5 and son, Andruw, 11/2. "I like to see them at the games, cheering for me," he said.

Sojo said Gumbs has power, but that skill is barely developed. He has no home runs this season and 10 total in the last two years. His game, like his defense, is just waiting to click.

"I keep telling him: It's not how you start, it's how you finish," Sojo said. "You have to make adjustments as a hitter or you're going to have problems. We have to be patient, and eventually everything's going to be all right."

You also may be interested in: