EDITOR'S NOTE: Michael Marcus, who comments here as "Michael M," is one of several authors "trying out" to become a BCB contributor. His debut post is below. - KL
With Corey Hart sidelined for 6-8 weeks, though his rehab is reportedly ahead of schedule, the Brewers find themselves yet again in a familiar position. Mat Gamel, the on again/off again prospect, is setting his sights on being the opening day first baseman for the second straight year.
"It sucks," said Gamel of Hart's injury, "But now I have an opportunity again."
During his brief time last year as the Brewers first baseman (read: small sample size), before an ACL injury ended his season, Gamel batted a disappointing .246/.293/.348 in just 69 AB. When looking at his splits last year (again, small sample size) Gamel batted .236/.271/.364 in 55 at-bats against RHP. Up against LHP, in just 14 AB he line was .286/.375/.286.
What about in 2009 when he had 128 major league AB's? He batted .242/.338/.422, which for his first extensive stint in the majors is decent and just above average according to OPS+ at 101. His splits that year batting against RHP were .229/.339/.400 in 105 AB's. Against LHP he bat .304/.333/.522 in only 23 AB's.
So what, if anything, do these numbers tell us? For one, it tells us even though it feels as if Gamel has been around forever he's only accumulated 240 career major league AB's. To put that into some perspective, Corey Hart, who Gamel is expected to replace, had 1,412 AB's by the time he was Gamel's age. Secondly, it tells us that while Gamel's at the point in his career where most players enter their primes, at 27 years old, Gamel has yet to have an extended opportunity to prove himself and therefore we don't know what that prime entails. He could just be another AAAA player or, as I believe, a serviceable starter/bench player who provides value to this Brewers team.
When Ron Roenicke was questioned on the first base opening he said, "I don't think Gamel will be in there everyday. I'm hoping Alex (Gonzalez) can play some first base." I'll let that sink in for a little bit. Alex bleepin' Gonzalez, who has a total of 0 games played at first. Maybe Ron meant Adrian Gonzalez but forgot he was in L.A? No, he meant Alex Gonzalez who has a career .247/.292/.399 line. Alex Gonzalez who Doug Melvin signed last year because of his defense at SS is going to split time with Gamel. I suppose it's better than Kotsay in center or Yuni "Golden Hands" Betancourt at SS, but come on Ron. If I wanted to bang my head against the wall I'd watch Bucks basketball, be happy I got pink eye, and say thank you sir may I have another.
Based on his comments I'm going to assume that Ron is going to go with a platoon of Gamel against RHP and Alex Gonzalez against LHP. Gonzalez, by the way is a career .243/.289/.399 hitter against LHP, intimidating pitchers everywhere.
Ron, I'm not normally one to hand out advice because when I do it backfires, but I'd like to propose another option at first to platoon with Gamel. I, for the record, do not want a platoon. I'd rather see Gamel get a true extended look but with the given reality of that actually happening I'm throwing you a name to think about: Martin Maldonado.
Maldonado, like Gonzalez, was always more known for his defense rather than his offense. But, when thrust into the lineup, basically by default, after Lucroy's hand injury; Maldonado held his own on the offensive end. He batted a respectable .266/.321/.408 in 233 AB's. His splits against RHP were .271/.314/.452 in 177 AB's and against LHP were .250/.344/.268 in just 56 AB's. While those numbers suggest that Maldonado is actually better against RHP he just doesn't have enough AB's against LHP to truly know how he'd perform. At the very least, we know how Gonzalez hits against RHP or LHP. He is what he is.
Maldonado, 25 years old, is just beginning his career. The Brewers thought so highly of him that they traded away fan favorite and part time Greek God George Kottaras to serve as the primary backup to Lucroy at catcher. Certainly, there are doubts about Maldonado's true ability to hit as seen in his 2012 line at Nashville .198/.279/.347 in 138 AB's. But, given the options on the current roster I think Maldonado is the one I'd choose. In a perfect world I would rather see Gamel play first everyday; but since we're in Ron Roenicke's head, we'll have to settle for small steps of sanity.