Searching for Jay Bruce, finding Mat Gamel

Today, we begin with an email:

I know who Jay Bruce is. He's been knocking the crap out of everything white with red seams that comes close to him. He's doing an impression of Xavier Nady in April but much better. The problem? I didn't add him ... So for me and the other 90 - 92% (depending on your league size) of fantasy players who didn't get Bruce, the Second Half Performer Pick-up Derby starts now. We need some advice Behrens. Maybe it could be a recurring column called "Kryptonite for Bruce" where you hopefully give us some insight into some fantasy duds and slow starters who might be primed for a breakout.

That's from Steve in San Francisco. It's a variant of a question we receive with great frequency: "Who's the next Jay Bruce/Ryan Braun?" As if there's just a long line of minor leaguers who could immediately hit .330-plus in the majors, were they not blocked by, say, Corey Patterson.

This is clearly an essential question. Mid-season waiver adds can decide fantasy titles, as with Braun last season or Jered Weaver in '06. In all likelihood, Bruce was the 2008 call-up to add if you could only add one. That's why we were telling you to stash him on your bench two months ago.

Still, it's worth looking to the high minors for other prospects of interest, and doing it regularly. We're not going to call these posts "Kryptonite for Bruce," though, because that would imply that we hope to weaken him using remnants of his home planet that have fallen to Earth, which is not cool.

We're also not going to specifically look at slow starters in these posts, because we produce lots of other content dedicated to those stiffs, in the blog and elsewhere. Instead, we're going to attempt to keep these "Searching for Jay Bruce..." pieces focused on the minors, often on people who are not yet in the Yahoo! player pool*.

We begin the effort with this dude:

That's 22-year-old Mat Gamel, a third base prospect in the Brewers' organization. He's absolutely assaulting the ball at Double-A Huntsville. After a 2-for-5 effort yesterday, Gamel is hitting .383/.453/.671 through 60 games. He has 13 home runs, 58 runs scored, 51 RBIs, 21 doubles, and four steals. Gamel is either first or second in the Southern League in every important category. (Wherever Gamel is second, his teammate Matt LaPorta is first. We'll be discussing him in a later post).

Bill Hall and the recently-useful Russell Branyan are involved in a job-share at third base for Milwaukee right now, and it's a situation that doesn't seem to please Hall. The left-handed hitting Gamel has been just as effective against LHPs so far this season (.408/.455/.606) as he has against RHPs (.372/.452/.698). He's not really a hitter who would require a platoon partner.

The only obvious issue -- and this should remind you of the Braun situation last season -- is Gamel's defense. As Baseball America just wrote, while ranking Gamel No. 2 overall on the Prospect Hot Sheet...

Gamel might not be as blocked as he once appeared to be. Of course, that assumes Gamel, who came into the season a well-below-average defender, will be able to stick at third base. Errors don't tell the whole story, and while his 12 errors in 56 games aren't inspiring, it's a far cleaner total than the 53 errors he made in 113 games a year ago.

No, that's not a clean total at all. Defense is the issue here, although Gamel seems to have improved. Nonetheless, if he maintains that 1.100-plus OPS, we should see him in the majors at some point in the second-half. He'll be of interest in mixed leagues, and potentially waiver-worthy if he arrives as an everyday player. He'll be a must-add in dynasty leagues.


*We've definitely heard you on the subject of prospects in the player pool, by the way, and it will be addressed with vigor for '09. That's not to say you shouldn't still comment on it. Just know that we listen to feedback, and the fantasy staff obviously considers the player pool to be a big deal.

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