You'll hear Mat Gamel referred to as a post-hype sleeper in some circles, but that tag isn't entirely accurate. In a lot of ways Gamel, the Milwaukee cornerman, is a no-hype sleeper, a screened commodity.
You won't find Gamel in the current Yahoo! staff rankings, for example. It's no fault of his own. I know for a fact that Andy Behrens is bullish on Gamel, and Brandon Funston considers him a late-round lottery ticket of interest. But we can't put Gamel on the rankings sheet yet because he doesn't hold a position. He only qualifies at "corner infield" in the current Yahoo! game. Just one of those flukes of the numbers racket.
The Brewers are giving the 26-year-old every chance to be the starting first baseman, and so far, so good: Gamel hit homers in three consecutive Cactus League games late last week. Okay, two of the homers came off non-roster invitees, guys he probably won't be facing when the bell rings, but when you're trying to establish yourself as a bona-fide major leaguer, you'll take whatever you can get.
The Gamel file reads like the typical post-hype setup. He was Baseball America's No. 34 prospect in 2009 and the No. 89 prospect in 2010. He's proven himself at Triple-A over the last two summers, including a .310/.372/.540 slash last year with 28 homers. But he hasn't shown much in his brief Milwaukee trials, hitting .222 over 171 stray at-bats covering four seasons (most of the time in 2009). Gamel's had trouble making contact in the show (67 whiffs over 171 at-bats), and he's always been viewed as a problem in the field. If Gamel is going to turn his career around, it's going to come from the batter's box.
"It's time for him to be a major-league player instead of a great Triple-A player," manager Ron Roenicke told the Arizona Republic. Roenicke and GM Doug Melvin insist that Gamel will get an extended look at first base, the spot vacated by the departed Prince Fielder. There's going to be a leash here.
Gamel knows it's his best chance to establish himself in Milwaukee, the first time he's really come to camp with a job lined up for him to win. And he also hears his biological clock ticking; with his 27th birthday just a few months away, the time to strike is now. For the first time as a pro, Gamel was serious over the winter, hitting the weights hard and dropping 25-30 pounds. The club considered him overweight at this time in 2010 and 2011, and some injury problems were blamed on Gamel's conditioning. This spring, he's sleek and ready to rock.
"I was out of shape," Gamel admitted to MLB.com. "It was lack of doing what I have to do. I was going to hit and not doing the other things that were necessary. I'd say this is the first [winter] that I've been a regular in the weight room. I've always hit and done that kind of stuff much more than I was in the weight room. This year, I was 100 percent more consistent [in workouts]. I actually had a routine." The new routine includes a personal trainer and a new diet.
Okay, the "best shape of his life" Mad Lib is easy to discount at this time of the year, I get that. But in the case of Gamel, I see a reason to get behind the story. The team didn't like his previous work ethic, so he changed it. His teammates can see the difference, and the media can as well. I guess this is growing up.
In shallow mixed leagues, Gamel might simply be a player to monitor right now, nothing past that. But in the medium and deeper pools, why not take a stab at a possible 20-25 homers? First base (where he'll eventually qualify) isn't that deep. There's always been a pedigree here. The Brewers will probably have Gamel batting fifth on opening day, behind Ryan Braun and Aramis Ramirez.
You'll find Gamel available in 95 percent of Yahoo! leagues as we go to press. Keep an open mind on this one. The development curve varies from prospect to prospect.