As everyone has no doubt heard by now, Milwaukee Brewers first baseman Mat Gamel was out of baseball activities on Sunday due to an aggravation of his knee – the same knee that had to be surgically repaired after he tore his ACL during the early part of the 2012 season.
Everyone involved with the team who could voice an opinion on the subject has said it is nothing to be concerned about at this point, but one has to wonder just what the long-range impact of this could do – for the team, the depth of the roster, and for Mat Gamel himself.
Photo Day has been about the extent of the working out Gamel has been able to do in 2013. (Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports)
Mat Gamel was once considered the heir apparent for the first base slot with the Milwaukee Brewers. He had the power potential, he had the hype and the had the kind of notoriety coming out of the Minor Leagues that makes a prospect crowned a future star before he takes a single Major League swing.
Then, he actually came up to the Show.
When he did, nothing much of the hype and the potential came with him. Sure, he could be counted on to approach league-average numbers, and he seemed to be a fine placeholder, but the magic was gone. It’s not thoroughly uncommon for minor league players to be pigeonholed like that. In fact, you could say it’s more the rule than the exception.
But no comes the problem: the Brewers were actually counting on Gamel. With Corey Hart still repairing a knee of his own – thanks to what we can assume is an over-eager workout regimen – Gamel was the go-to-guy for the first month or so of the season. It was the second chance of a lifetime for Gamel.
And Gamel probably didn’t have much a shot after that. The baseball gods – fickle as they are – deigned to impose one more setback in a career filled with them. Mat Gamel has always had a hill to climb, but coming off a devastating injury, and looking down a roster filled with people all too eager to take his spot, it may have just gotten a little steeper.
And that’s hard enough to climb on two good knees.
But the injury has wide-ranging effects on the team, going beyond just the scope of Gamel’s quickly waning career as a Brewer. There is a question to answer now with depth. We all knew it would take a miracle of rehabilitation and performance for Mat Gamel to wrangle the starting spot away from Hart, but know the questions are coming from farther out of the dugout:
How long will the nagging pains and limited ability last for Gamel? Should he, if his injury persists, take a bench spot on the team? Who replaces Gamel if he has to go?
If Gamel can’t get his injury under control, Taylor Green is going to find himself in the same position as Gamel was a few years ago. (Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports)
Taylor Green appears to be the defacto – but it may have more to do with the fact that Taylor Green needs to have a place on this team. Green’s potential for success sits right now somewhere between where Mat Gamel was and the great beyond – that is to say that it’s ‘put up or shut up’ time for him.
Hunter Morris has a different issue. He’s coming off a breakout year in AA and a machination of hype that rivals anything we’ve seen around a prospect in quite some time. Of course, it’s no easy task for a ballplayer to skip AAA entirely and make waves in the Majors. Jean Segura did it last year with some notable success, and perhaps the Brewers think that lightening can strike twice. But bringing Hunter up too fast has the potential to push his career in a direction that has just as many hurdles as Gamel.
The bottom line here is that Mat Gamel’s injury is going to ripple through the team in unexpected ways. For now, it seems to be only minor and little cause for concern. But, in terms of baseball, little things can turn into big problems when you’re not looking.
This is something the team is going to need to address sooner rather than later. We all respect Gamel and it would be great to see him succeed in 2013, but in deference to the issues at hand it would be wise to explore as many contingency plans as possible. I’m just not sure if the Brewers know where to find them.