Once viewed as the third baseman of the future for the Milwaukee Brewers, Mat Gamel has been optioned to Triple-A for the third consecutive season. Gamel has always shown the ability to hit, but injuries have prevented him from making the Opening Day roster the last two seasons. Due to those injuries, Casey McGehee was able to grab hold of the Brewers’ third base position in 2009. After another strong season in 2010, McGehee has rendered Gamel a spare part. Still youngish (to borrow a term from Carson Cistulli), does Gamel still fit into the Brewers’ plans?
Due to his injuries and general ineffectiveness, Gamel has received only167 plate appearances in the majors. All but 19 of those plate appearances came in 2009, when the Brewers were desperate for third base help. In Gamel’s brief audition with the team, he flashed the strong walk rate and power that had made him a top prospect. Unfortunately, an astronomical strikeout rate, combined with the emergence of Casey McGehee, led to Gamel’s undoing. By late July, Gamel was back in Triple-A feasting on less experienced pitching.
Throughout his minor league career, Gamel’s strikeout rate has been a source of concern. In his first extended taste of Triple-A, Gamel struck of in 32.6% of his plate appearances despite a solid average and strong walk rate. Looking at that data, it’s no surprise that his strikeout rate ballooned to an unsightly 42.2% in his audition for the third base job. In order for Gamel to succeed in the majors, he’s going to need to cut down on his strikeouts significantly. But there is hope for Gamel.
In his second season at Triple-A, Gamel managed to cut his strikeout rate to a more reasonable 20.6%. While that’s still quite high, it shows Gamel’s ability to adjust and provides hope that he can hit above the Mendoza line when given another opportunity in the majors.
Due to the Brewers current depth chart, it’s unclear when Gamel will get that opportunity. Never a strong defender, Gamel’s ideal position would be designated hitter, a luxury the Brewers do not have. While most teams would move Gamel to a weaker defensive position, the Brewers have already employed that strategy with more promising players (see Ryan Braun). With McGehee at third and Prince Fielder at first, there isn’t really a place for Gamel on the Brewers this season barring an injury.
Despite sending Gamel to Triple-A for a third consecutive season, he still has value to the Brewers. It’s widely believed that this will be Fielder’s last season with the team, and Gamel could slide into that spot next season. If he can control the strikeouts, his bat will play at first, and his defense can’t be much worse than what the Brewers are already getting at the position. If the Brewers are really serious about going all-in this season, Gamel could be used as trade bait. With the recent news of Kevin Slowey‘s banishment to the bullpen, some writers have already suggested a Gamel-Slowey swap.
While Gamel won’t likely learn much in his third trip to the minors, he’s not a player the Brewers should write off. It’s not the ideal way to develop a prospect, but Gamel still figures into the Brewers’ plans. He may not fit with the team as currently constructed, but he presents an easy solution to Fielder’s likely departure. If the Brewers have soured on Gamel, they could choose to deal him for a useful piece this season. Even though Gamel hasn’t lived up to the early billing, he’s still a player to keep an eye on. Although the Brewers’ handling of Gamel seems to suggest otherwise, he could still play a significant role in the future of this franchise.