The Milwaukee Brewers may have expected to go into the regular season without one of their key players. While the Brewers will have Ryan Braun for the entire season, Corey Hart might miss some time at the beginning of the year following arthroscopic surgery on his knee. Though the outfielder is expected to only miss three-to-four weeks — and might even be ready for Opening Day — there’s also a chance he’ll miss a few games to begin the season. While that doesn’t seem like much, it could have an impact on the transitioning Brewers.
With Hart potentially recovering for the first couple weeks of the season, Carlos Gomez should have an opportunity to play. With Nyjer Morgan shifting over to Hart’s vacated right field, Gomez will man center field. Gomez has proven many times that he doesn’t have the bat to carry himself as a useful fantasy asset. Gomez does, however, have great speed on the bases. Considering Ron Roenicke recently said that he wants to see “aggressive base running” this season, that could benefit Gomez in the early going. He’s still not the type of guy you want to draft as a starter, but he’ll be a great source of cheap steals, especially early on.
If Hart is out for a couple of weeks, Mat Gamel could have the most to gain from Hart’s absence. Gamel is facing a make-or-break season. He’s out of options, and cannot be sent down, so the Brewers are depending on him to finally produce. With Gamel attempting to replace Prince Fielder, there’s clearly a lot of pressure on the former prospect.
To relieve Gamel of that pressure, the Brewers intended on giving Hart some time at first base. If Gamel struggled early on, there was a chance that Hart would start to receive more time at the position, pushing Gamel to the bench. Gamel may have climbed the prospect ranks at third base, but he’s currently blocked there by Aramis Ramirez, and he’s generally thought of as a horrid defender. So, if Gamel can’t cut it at first base, he’ll be sitting on the bench often.
Whether Gamel can take advantage of that opportunity is unclear. Gamel has been a frustrating fantasy prospect for what seems like forever, but it’s important to note that he hasn’t even reached 200 plate appearances at the major league level. While Gamel had some opportunities in the past to seize jobs, his time coincided with the surge of Casey McGehee. Since the Brewers couldn’t move Gamel to first — and couldn’t risk putting another converted third baseman in the outfield — they kept in the minors. It’s not encouraging that Gamel never forced his way into playing time, but the Brewers weren’t exactly assembled to include Gamel until now.
Thankfully, Gamel is coming off his strongest season in the minors. Perhaps that should have been expected, since he was repeating AAA for the third straight season. At the same time, Gamel did show some improvement. Over his career, Gamel has been plagued by a high strikeout rate, which was going to prevent him from hitting for high averages in the majors. This past season, Gamel lowered his strikeout rate to a solid 15.4%. That number will jump in the majors — and Gamel’s average may never be above-average — but there’s at least hope that his strikeout rate will no longer destroy his value.
With Hart potentially out for a couple of weeks, Gamel should have a bit more leeway to begin the season. If he gets off to a poor start, the front office might show more patience in the former prospect. Even if Hart comes back early, there’s still a chance he’ll need more rest than usual. The Brewers were expected to depend on Gamel this season, they’ll need him now more than ever.