Position Review & Preview: Mat Gamel, First Base
by Nathan Petrashek
The “review” part of this article practically writes itself; Prince Fielder had one of the best seasons of his career and launched himself into a 9-year, $214-million deal with the Detroit Tigers. I could tell you how awesome Prince was last year, but you already know. The tougher part of this is explaining how exactly anyone is going to fill Fielder’s shoes. Mat Gamel gets that rather undesirable task.
For four years, Mat Gamel has been a man in transition. His career transactions page at Brewerfan.net reads like a flight itinerary at an airport. Gamel has been up and down between the majors and minors so many times, he probably keeps a suitcase packed.
For years in the minors, Gamel played third base. That changed last year when the Brewers, anticipating Fielder’s departure, shifted Gamel to the other corner. This should be a dramatic improvement defensively. At third, Gamel was horrendous; not quite 2007 Ryan Braun bad, but you get the picture just from that comparison. His range and arm are decent, not great, but you can hide some of those deficiencies at first base.
There’s no doubting Gamel’s offensive chops though, at least as it pertains to minor-league opposition. Gamel has hammered pitchers at every level on his trek to the majors, compiling a .304/.376/.498 slash line over seven minor-league seasons. Gamel has displayed decent power, he makes good contact, and doesn’t strike out a ton. Just a couple years ago, Gamel was regarded as the cream of the Brewers minor-league crop.
So why has Gamel lost his shine? His limited appearances in the majors haven’t been encouraging. In portions of four years with the Brewers, Gamel has slashed just .222/.309/.373. It’s worth noting that line is based on very limited plate appearances (194), and that he did considerably better in 2009 when he had his longest audition (.242/.338/.422 in 148 PA). There is still plenty of upside here, offensively, though Gamel is likely to put up only average stats at a premium offensive position like first base.
The other thing apparently holding Gamel back is his attitude. When asked about Gamel’s future in September, Nashville manager Don Money had some harsh words:
“If he can get his head right, and that’s the thing,” Money said. “He’s hard-headed. He doesn’t carry himself well. You have to carry yourself like a professional, and he doesn’t do it and I’ve said it to him.”
So how do we boil this all down into a prediction? We know that Gamel (1) should have no problem adapting to first base; (2) knocked the crap out of the ball in the minors; (3) has a bit of a focus problem; and (4) has struggled in very limited plate appearances in the majors. The way I see it, the negative doesn’t even come close to overriding the positive. Gamel’s attitude should turn quickly in a major league clubhouse, and Gamel is reportedly in pretty good shape heading into spring training. As I indicated, I don’t view Gamel’s struggles in the majors to date as predictive of his future success. He’s coming off a monster year in the minors (.310/.372/.540) in which he hit 28 home runs and dropped his K-rate to nearly a career low. What’s not to love?
Projections for Gamel are all over the place. Bill James has a pretty aggressive line of .282/.342/.476, and I’m equally bullish on Gamel; he might even beat that.
2012 Projection: 120 G, 488 PA, 127 H, 65 R, 25 2B, 23 HR, 79 RBI, 42 BB, 97 K, 2 SB, .284/.346/.500