We've spent most of the winter hearing about Mat Gamel, as the Brewer front office has done a lot to trumpet his abilities and display him as a candidate to open the 2012 season at first base. At the time I thought the Brewers were posturing and would work to sign a veteran to take Gamel's place. Now, though, it seems increasingly likely that they're serious about giving him a shot.
Gamel has been a top prospect in the Brewer organization for so long that we've more or less stopped treating him as one. Baseball America rated Gamel as the game's #34 prospect before the 2009 season, but 2011 was his fourth season in AAA. He's clearly proven his ability to hit at that level, posting a .301/.374/.512 line in 290 games.
Gamel's brief major league appearances, however, tell a different story. In 85 major league games since 2008 he's hit .222/.309/.374. The Brewers didn't even call him up last September, leading to some speculation that he'd fallen out of the organization's good graces.
Some of Gamel's wounds are, of course, self-inflicted. He was the last position player to report to camp in 2009 and did so with a previously unreported injury. At one point that spring Brewer veterans moved his locker outside when he showed up late. After the 2011 season Nashville manager Don Money threw Gamel under the bus in an interview, saying he had reported to camp "25-30 pounds overweight" and doesn't carry himself like a professional.
Given Aramis Ramirez at third base and a crowded outfield (which could potentially get even busier if Aoki signs), first base is the only position Gamel could feasibly play for this team. That raises the bar a bit offensively: His bat will need to be pretty good to put the Brewers in a position where it doesn't make sense to pursue other options.
Gamel is out of options, so the 2012 season might be his last chance to play in the majors as a Brewer. He hasn't made the most of his opportunities in the past, but the good news for him is that the organization appears poised to give him another shot this spring.