Mat Gamel had to know the bad news was coming the moment he heard about
Felipe Lopez’s acquisition from Arizona. While he had been pretty
useful as a part-timer for the last two-plus months, the Brewers
appeared to be looking for an excuse to send him back down, if only
until Sept. 1. They certainly weren’t going to reduce his role further
when they had the opportunity to play him regularly in Triple-A.
At least Gamel did get much more of a taste of the majors than
originally expected. The 23-year-old was called up on May 14 to help
out as a DH in AL parks during interleague play, but as a result of
Rickie Weeks’ season-ending wrist injury, he ended up spending more
than two months in the majors. Unfortunately, the Brewers never did
commit to him during that time, though perhaps they would have if not
for Casey McGehee’s sudden emergence.
Gamel returns to Triple-A with a rather undistinguished
.239/.336/.407 line in 113 at-bats. However, that hardly tells the
whole story. When the Brewers started using him at third base, he hit
.267/.341/.493 in 75 at-bats. His struggles came during those games at
designated hitter and as a pinch-hitter off the bench. Also, he was
very likely unlucky to have such a modest batting average. According to
Baseball Info Solutions data, Gamel hit line drives in 27.9 percent of his at-bats, a higher percentage than any batting title qualifier in either league.
Of course, defense was the main knock on Gamel as a prospect. He
committed 53 errors in 128 games in the Florida State League in 2007
and then 32 in 131 games between Double- and Triple-A last year. Most
believed he’d be forced to the outfield, much like Ryan Braun before
him. However, he was quite a nice surprise for the Brewers at the hot
corner. While he did commit four errors in 23 games, he showed plus
range, leaving him with a slightly above average UZR.
It’s too early to say he won’t be a liability, but the Brewers should
be willing to keep him at third next year based on his showing.
And Gamel will be a regular next season. The Brewers have refused to
discuss him in trade talks, and McGehee and Bill Hall aren’t going to
be long-term obstacles. By sending him down now, the Brewers are
weakening their team a bit, but it’s probably worth it with the
likelihood that they’ll save millions in the future. Since Gamel was
called up just 5 1/2 weeks into the season, he likely would have been a
super-two player had he remained in the majors for the rest of 2009 and
all of 2010. The additional month in the minors will guarantee that he
misses the cutoff.