Mat Gamel had had success in the past, but not like this.
Taken in the fourth round (No. 115 overall) of the 2004 draft out of Chipola (Fla.) J.C., Gamel entered the 2008 campaign having slugged in the high .400s in each of his three seasons as a pro. The 6-foot, 205-pounder posted a wOBA over .340 at each level, including a .351 showing in High-A.
Then '08 happened.
Gamel has blown his past success out of the water, posting career highs across the board with a .336/.402/.546 vital to go along with a .397 wOBA in Double-A.
I had a chance to catch up with slugging third baseman in the U.S. clubhouse after the Futures Game, where we discussed everything from his breakout season to life without Matt LaPorta in the Huntsville lineup.
Adam Loberstein: If I had told you at the beginning of the year that you'd be hitting .375 with an OPS over 1.000 at the all-star break, leaving the field at Yankee Stadium after hitting third for the U.S. team in the Futures Game, what would you have said?
Mat Gamel: I probably would have laughed at you [laughs]. ...It's been good, man. I've been having a good year, having a lot of success. I'm just going out and trying to have fun.
AL: You've been solid in each of your first three MiLB seasons, but nothing like this. Why the breakout campaign?
MG: I've been using the same approach that I've been working with for a long time. I've just been consistent with that -- haven't been changing anything.
AL: Your power numbers are way up this year. You'd slugged in the high .400s each year entering this season, and you're up over .600 this year at the break. While those power numbers go up, your strikeouts have gone down. How've you pulled that off?
MG: I've got power. People don't really know that because I've never been a big home run guy. I've been getting a lot of good pitches. Having Angel [Salome], Matt LaPorta in our lineup -- they've gotta pitch to somebody. I've been fortunate to see some of those pitches, and I've been taking advantage of [them].
AL: You mentioned Matt LaPorta. What's it going to be like in Huntsville from here on out without him hitting behind you in the lineup?
MG: You just have to be patient. We still have a lot of heavy hitters in our lineup. Losing Matt -- he was a big part of our lineup. But there's a lot of guys in that lineup that swing the bat well. We'll be alright.
AL: Do you feel that LaPorta's success has overshadowed the things you've been doing this season?
MG: I don't really know. I don't care about all that stuff.
AL: Shifting from the batter's box to the field, some have been critical of your defense at third base throughout your development. What do you think when you hear people say things like that?
MG: You know, they're not out there doing it. It's easy to talk from behind a computer or whatever. When you're actually out there doing it, it's a different story. I'll be the first to say that my defense wasn't where it needed to be, but I've been working hard getting ground balls everyday. I'm working to get my defense where I can be a big league third baseman.
AL: Where's your defense now in comparison to where it was at the beginning of the season? Do you feel like you're progressing there?
MG: Yeah, a lot. Even from last year -- it's night-and-day better.
AL: The Brewers have so many young stars in their lineup. Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Corey Hart -- what's it like to be in an organization that has had success churning out tallented young big leaguers?
MG: It's exciting. They're good about the guys that they pick, and they know how to move them up through the system to the big leagues. They're a young team, which is good for me. They like to get you up there.
Adam Loberstein can be reached at email@example.com.