Milwaukee Brewers: Mat Gamel's Torrid Spring a Good Sign
Just kidding. Prince Fielder will be missed by the Milwaukee Brewers no matter which way you slice it; from his elite offensive production to his clubhouse charisma and leadership qualities, Prince is an irreplaceable talent. But if you're a Brewers fan, the loss is starting to look less and less painful the further we get into spring.
Ryan Braun is finally starting to find his rhythm, Corey Hart will possibly be able to make it back on the opening day roster, Rickie Weeks is returning to full health, and the Brewers are getting offensive production out of every position.
There are a couple of position battles are that are shaping up to be dead heats, namely for the starting center fielder, backup outfielder and backup infielder. But as interesting as they are, I'm not here to talk about position battles.
I'm here to talk about Mat Gamel.
The polarizing, long-time prospect is putting together the best spring of his career, and the closer we approach to opening day, the quieter the critics are becoming.
Everyone knows Gamel can hit. He's proven it time and time again in the upper minors and he has even shown glimpses of being a viable major leaguer during his call-ups, but most of his time in the majors has been forgettable. Gamel's problem has never been ability, it has always been motivation.
By now, everyone has heard about his stints in the majors. His ugly MLB career stat line of .222/.309/.374 is not impressive to anyone.
But what I, and other baseball optimists (yes, we exist), have been saying for years is that Gamel has not been given his fair chance yet.
Sure, he has had call-ups in four separate seasons. He has had 171 major league at-bats over the course of those call-ups, and all he has to show for it is an ugly set of statistics and no real contribution.
But Mat Gamel has not been given the opportunity to start on a consistent basis. His call-ups have been brief, and he has not had the chance to figure out major league pitching on a consistent basis.
Gamel, a third baseman by trade, had his path to the majors blocked by the emergence of Casey McGehee at third, and last year he was sent to Triple-A and switched to first base for the entire season in anticipation of Prince Fielder's departure.
He put together the best minor league season of his career and convinced the Brewers to give him the shot he's been waiting for.
And this spring he is making the most of it. He came to camp in the best shape of his life, with a newfound motivation that impressed even the harshest of critics. Gamel knew this was his chance to prove that he has what it takes to shake the "Quad-A" label that has been assigned to him. He knew that if he wanted to be a major leaguer this was it.
So far, Gamel has had arguably the best offensive spring of any Brewer (with the possible exception of Jonathan Lucroy), and he has proven that he can and will be a legitimate power threat in the majors.
At the time of writing this article, Gamel has six spring homers to his name, including a three-game stretch where he hit home runs in back-to-back-to-back games.
He has a two-homer day against the San Diego Padres under his belt, when he cranked a monster grand slam and then in his next at-bat hit another no-doubter to almost the exact same spot in right field.
Gamel's swing has major league power hitter written all over it, and his output at the plate has been undeniable so far this spring.
Will it translate to the regular season? Again, as a baseball optimist I'm inclined to say yes. He's done this against major league pitching, and his attitude off the field leads me to believe that he really wants to be great in the majors. But only time will tell.
The Brewers knew that replacing Prince Fielder would be impossible, but with Mat Gamel playing as well as he has so far, it's hard to believe that his departure will hurt as much as many believed.
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