As Brewers fans, we’ve become accustomed to our pitching prospects not living up to their early hype in the minors. Whether it’s by injury (J.M. Gold, Nick Neugebauer, Mark Rogers) or personal problems (Jeremy Jeffress), it’s just no longer a surprise when a pitching prospect turns into a bust. When it comes to position players, though, we have to admit we’ve gotten a little spoiled. Ryan Braun? Prince Fielder? Both shot through the minors and dominated from day one in the majors. Even guys like Rickie Weeks and Corey Hart, while not living up to all of their potential, have to be considered success stories due to the fact that they’re pretty average everyday players.
Simply put, we’re not used to our position prospects struggling to break into the majors and falling down (and nearly off) the offseason prospect ranking lists. But here we are with Mat Gamel, whose 2010 season will start with a stint on the disabled list. It’s been a rough couple years for Gamel, as he’s seen his stock go from untouchable top prospect to barely cracking most of the Top 100 lists. His level of play on the field hasn’t indicated the amount of progress we’d all like to see, and he’s battled two (unrelated) shoulder injuries.
For whatever reason, the local press seems to be getting tough on him. There was Anthony Witrado’s controversial blog post when the news initially broke, which initially stated that Gamel was “screwing himself” in his first call-up and big league camp last year (the post has since been edited to say he was “hurting himself”). Those who have watched FS Wisconsin broadcasts in the past know that Bill Schroeder has said some things about him that haven’t exactly been complimentary, either.
To be fair to the media personalities, Gamel didn’t exactly start off on the right foot last year. But he’s shown that he’s ready to grow up now that he’s a father — he was one of the first Brewers to show up to camp this year, and ironically, it seems that he may have injured himself during one of those early batting practice sessions.
I still think it’s too early to call Gamel a bust — as I’ve said before, it’s important to remember that he’s only entering his age 24 season — but there’s no doubting his stock has taken a hit. There are still doubts about his defense at third base, and he hasn’t exactly torn the cover off the ball at Triple A. Now, worries about his ability to stay healthy may start to creep in.
Is he going to be a .900 OPS guy in the majors? Probably not. But even if he isn’t, he’s probably good for at least a league-average OPS at third base. Here’s to hoping Gamel has a speedy recovery, because every at-bat will be crucial for him this year. While he’s not a bust yet, he’s another average year at Triple A away from many people saddling him with that label.