Time To Shine Mat Gamel
By Lou Olsen
There was a time, when I was relieved that the Brewers chose to trade Matt LaPorta rather than Mat Gamel for CC Sabathia. That was over 3 years ago. Now Mat Gamel is going to get his first chance to be an everyday major league player. While last season was the first time he ever played 1st base, the Brewers intend to finally take off his training wheels and see if he can hit major league pitching. In the words of David Bowie and Freddy Mercury, Mat Gamel is going to have to perform, “Under Pressure”.
(For the record, I am indifferent about the LaPorta v. Gamel trade choice today)
Now, I personally believe that Gamel will not be the answer at 1st base.
You may be wondering why?
Too me, Gamel has had countless opportunities to make an impact at the major league level, but has never taken advantage of it. Over the past 4 seasons he has accumulated almost 200 plate appearances for the Crew and has a .222 batting average. Now that, statistic is a little unfair. In 2009, Gamel played in 60 games for the Brewers and hit .242, with 5 HR’s and 20RBI’s. His 2008, 2010, and 2011 seasons where nothing more than a few pinch-hit attempts and then back to the minors.
Gamel got a legitimate chance to be an everyday player on this team in 2009. Ken Macha was giving him a good deal of playing time at 3rd base to decide between him and Casey McGehee. Quite frankly, he was not that impressive. Defensively he was a liability nightmare. You can not be a 3rd baseman with an .885 fielding percentage. Well, I mean you can…but who would want you?
It was at this point that the Brewers tried to convert Gamel into an outfielder, because Casey McGehee seemed to be the 3rd baseman of the future (whoops!). But that was sidetracked by Gamel going back to Nashville…and the Sounds not having anyone to play 3rd base. That did not matter, because Gamel was a monster at the plate in 2010. Mat hit .304 with 14 HR’s and 74 RBI’s splitting time between Single, Double, and Triple-A (that would be Brevard County, Huntsville, and Nashville respectively) due to spring training injuries. Most of Gamel’s 2010 was spent in Nashville though, with a cup of tea in the majors at the end of the season. What a wasted tea time, 15 at-bats and 3 hits for the Brewers in 2010
As the magical 2011 season began, Gamel was a front-runner to make the Opening Day roster. That was derailed when MtG got hurt, for the second consecutive spring training. On the bright side he was proving that he could be consistant at injuring himself. Then the guy got one AB in Spring Training and was immediately sent to Nashville. At that point I wrote an article that summed up his career to that point, The slight rise and minimal fall of Mat Gamel. For whatever reason, the guy just could not take advantage of his opportunities. But then the season started and things really changed.
Maty G had an other-worldly season in Nashville last year, 28 HR’s and 96 RBI’s, with a .310 batting average. Gamel also began to play 1st base everyday, as it became clear that the Brewers would be unable to retain Prince Fielder. In 102 games playing first base, he only committed 11 errors, giving him a .988 fielding percentage. Which by my math makes him a better 1st baseman than 3rd baseman. Thus, he was crowned our 1st baseman of the future.
Thanks to his 2011, we all are hoping he can fill the very large shoes of Prince Fielder. Quite frankly, I do not see it happening. I believe that part of the reason for the Aoki signing, could be to free up Corey Hart to play 1st base more frequently.
Hart was originally drafted as a 1st baseman, but has said that he is not really thrilled about playing the position. This is where Roenicke needs to flex a little muscle and get Corey to play it once in a while at first. Ease him into it. That gives Gamel his opportunity and also gets Hart some reps, which in turn gives Aoki more reps. Everyone wins…well accept for Mat. He would lose.
The Brewers are a smart organization and I do believe that they will give Gamel his chance, but they have all of their bases covered on this kid. If Braun is to be suspended, then Gamel will have a 50 game window to prove that he is our 1st baseman. Should Braun defy the odds and win his appeal, then Gamel probably has about 4-6 weeks to show results.
I really hope I am wrong. Nothing would make me a happier panda, than to have Gamel go out and hit 20 HR’s and drive in 85 runs this season. Truth is, I would relish being wrong on this. The Milwaukee Brewers are a winning ball club and they will demand results. There is enough depth on this team now, where no one is truly safe. Even though he has not played a single game at 1st base for the Brewers, he already owns the hottest seat on the team.
Time to shine Maty G. Make me feel stupid. Please.