Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Mat Gamel

He has been touted for so many years that we can all recite his story. His defense isn't good enough for anywhere but first base. His bat belongs in a Major League line-up, but it just so happens that he's blocked by one of the best hitters in the game, someone who is probably a future Hall of Famer if everything shakes out right. Meanwhile, the clock is ticking, and the prospect is starting to look like less of a prospect and more of a career minor leaguer.

But I'm not talking about Mat Gamel in 2011. No, I'm talking about Ryan Howard in 2005.

And I'm being more than a little bit cute. Howard never played anything but first base in his minor league career, despite some talk about moving him to left field. Gamel has been a third baseman for most of his stint in the minors; it wasn't until 2011 that the Brewers moved him to first. Howard was 25 when a Jim Thome injury opened the door for a real opportunity in Philadelphia. Gamel turns 26 next month and is still waiting for a real chance.

Howard was also destroying pitchers in tougher hitter venues. Gamel has been toiling in the Pacific Coast League since 2009. Putting context aside, Gamel's numbers at AA and AAA simply don't hold up to Howard's.

No, the comparison is less about what I think Gamel will do and more about perception. Even after Howard's banner 2003 campaign in the Florida State League, Baseball America didn't rank Howard in their Top 100. Howard's 50/151 BB/K ratio gave analysts pause. It wasn't until after Howard's 2004 that he was taken seriously, but even then there was a good deal of cynicism about whether or not Howard's bat would translate to the Majors.

In Gamel's case, his prospect allure has been tarnished by the fact that he's repeated Triple-A more often than Bill Murray repeated February 2 in Groundhog Day. What Gamel needs is a real opportunity to play in the Majors. Unless Prince Fielder gets hurt, though, Gamel won't get that chance until 2012. While I wouldn't expect Gamel to hit 40+ HR, 25-30 wouldn't surprise me. He's not languishing in the minors because he's not good enough, but rather because he can't play any position but first base and because the Brewers haven't had a DH since realignment.

1 comment:

Gypsy Soul said...

Great writing, Mike. Fun and insightful, thanks.