Gamble on Gamel

Suffice it to say Brewers have a lot going on right now. They are facing the fact that their MVP left fielder is most likely going to miss 50 games in 2012, so they finally made the move to lock up Aramis Ramirez to a three year deal. After that, they traded former third baseman Casey McGehee to Pittsburgh in exchange for a reliever. FB365’s Josh Shepardson covered the impacts of those last two moves already, but now even more new information has come to light.

The Brewers are reportedly out of the Prince Fielder sweepstakes for good. Instead, they plan on rolling with forgotten prospect Mat Gamel at first base. Yes, thee Mat Gamel that prompted Baseball Prospectus’s Kevin Goldstein to write in 2009,

“Gamel combines good pitch recognition with the right kind of aggressiveness at the plate, and his quick, quiet swing allows him to hit for both average and good power. He should hit .300 in the big leagues with over 25 home runs annually. He’s a solid athlete who runs well, especially once he gets going.” (source)

In fact, before the 2009 season Baseball America ranked Gamel as the 34th best prospect in baseball. That ranking came even while taking his poor defense into consideration.

Gamel’s lack of production at the big league level has tempered those expectations a bit. However, the most playing time Gamel has seen in the big leagues was 148 sporadic plate appearances in 2009. He was given a whopping 17 big league plate appearances in 2010 and a monstrous 27 plate appearances in 2011. One can barely blame the Brewers, as they had this big guy playing first who would frequently scold baseballs out to the Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha. Since Gamel had no other place to play defensively, he was stuck.

With Prince moving on and taking his tofu vegan cheese with him, Tim Haudricourt of the Milwaukee Sentinal Journal reports via Twitter that the Crew will indeed go with Gamel at first.

Gamel has nothing left to prove in the minors. Over his seven seasons on the farm, Gamel has put up an impressive line of .304/.376/.498. While we can’t take minor league numbers literally, we can look at peripheral trends. Gamel once struggled with high strikeout rates, but those strikeout rates have come down significantly over the last two seasons.

If Gamel can keep his strikeouts under control and post a league average walk rate, his natural hitting ability should allow him to become a very productive regular, though not a star. Bill James projects Gamel at .282/.342/.476 with 19 home runs in 483 plate appearances (or, basically what Freddie Freeman did last season). If Gamel hits home runs at the pace that James predicts, he would hit about 24 home runs if given 550 at-bats.

Given how scouts used to continuously rave about his hit tool and given his consistent performances in the minor leagues, we have to conclude that the guy can hit, right? The biggest question in my mind is how he will fare against left-handed pitching, but we’ll never know for sure until he gets more big league at-bats against them.

In other words, Gamel, at the still young age of 26, has plenty of potential to be a mixed league contributor in 2012. Given the fact that he has yet to put up numbers in the big leagues and that his hot prospect status has eroded away from being blocked by Fielder, he should cost next to nothing to acquire on draft day.

Oh, and by the way, Gamel is listed as a 3B/1B in Yahoo!, 3B in CBS and 3B on ESPN. Queue Ace Ventura scene.