Mandatory Credit: Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports
Although Mat Gamel may not officially be done playing Major League Baseball, the corner infielder has sustained three major knee injuries in the past three years, including one recently. It is a disappointing end to what was at one point a very promising career. As a tribute to our once beloved prospect, the following is an obituary for the career of one Mat Gamel.
Rise to Fame:
Mat Gamel was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in the fourth round of the 2005 draft out of Chipola College. Gamel’s first three years in pro ball were big successes. The then third basemen never posted an average below .288, an OBP below .359, or a SLG under .469. In 2008, his wRC+ at AA Hunstville was 148 in 127 games.
Besides great statistical performance, Gamel was a hit with scouts. He was often cited as being a pure hitter with the ability to drive the ball to all fields. He was said to have plus pop, and had the potential to be a .280-.300 hitter with 25-30 HRs at third base. Although scouts were a bit wary of his ability to play third base, most believed he could handle it enough to be worth it. The upside was a middle of the order bat at the hot corner. Boy, that would’ve been nice.
Riding the Shuttle:
Gamel was a hit with scouts and Brewers fans alike, but 2009 would be the start of an interesting few years for Gamel. With Prince Fielder firmly implanted at first base, Gamel would have to be able to handle the hot corner in order to see consistent plate appearances. While Gamel’s bat had developed in the minors, he really struggled at third base. He was making errors at a pace that makes just about anyone uncomfortable (.885 Fielding percentage in 191 innings). Gamel also struggled with the bat in his stint with the Brewers in 2009, posting a 100 wRC+. Normally that wouldn’t be that bad, but his defense offset his offensive value, and he accumulated 0.3 WAR over 61 games. One concerning part of his game was his strikeout rate, which reached 36.5%.
Gamel would return to the minors in 2010, spending 82 games with Nashville. He was again successful there posting a slash line of .309/.387/.511 to go with a 127 wRC+. Despite another strong season, Gamel was being blocked by Casey McGehee who was having a career year. With both CIF spots blocked, Gamel was unable to rise up as quickly as most had hoped.
2011 was another year of Gamel torching PCL pitching. He posted a 121 wRC+ and appeared to be the heir apparent to Prince Fielder at first base. He struggled mightily in his small cup of coffee (posted a -26 wRC+, yes negative), but the sample size of ten games was too small to worry much.
Coming into 2012, the first base job belonged to Gamel. While most fans did not expect the greatness that was in the forecast in 2009, many thought he could be an average to above average first baseman. The season began and Gamel didn’t get off to a roaring start. Through 21 games he was hitting a measly .246/.293/.348 for a 72 wRC+. This was only 21 games though, and Gamel had cut his strikeout rate to 20%.
Then one fateful night in San Deigo, Mat Gamel’s career would take a dark turn. While chasing a pop up that was headed towards the seats behind first base, Gamel ran full speed into the wall. His knee buckled, and his career would be changed forever. The result was what we had all feared, a torn ACL.
Many players have come back form torn ACLs. This had become standard procedure in sports, and most expected Gamel to return as the 1B in 2013. Except Gamel’s knee would not cooperate. Before he could even make it into spring training, his ACL re-tore, and he had to miss all of 2013.
The Brewers gave up on Gamel as a part of their future. He was put on waivers after the season. He was claimed by the Chicago Cubs, only to be waived a few days later. The Atlanta Braves picked him up, hoping to provide some depth in AAA. Unfortunately, Gamel’s knee would give out in training once more. Gamel will need to have another surgery to repair his knee, and this likely is the end of his career.
How We’ll Remember Him:
Mat Gamel, you will be remembered as a player with a lot of promise, but one we never got witness reach it. A player that was once seen as a middle of the order third baseman, a star, had his career cut short by knee injury after knee injury. I will remember Gamel for his awkward interviews, his love for large quantities of chewing tobacco, and what was one of the smoothest swings Milwaukee has had in some time. Unfortunately, what we will all remember Gamel by are the knee injuries, and one fateful night in San Diego.