Mat Gamel was drafted by the Brewers in the fourth round of the 2005 draft, out of Chipola Junior College in Florida. He was considered one of the best junior college hitters available in the draft class. Junior college guys are sometimes in limbo draft-wise; they often don't quite go as high in the draft as their talent level would indicate, although perhaps with the loss of the draft-and-follow that may change. In that regard Gamel looked like a possible bargain in the fourth. HIs pro debut was successful: .327/.375/.497 in 50 games in the Pioneer League, though his plate discipline was weak with 12 walks against 49 strikeouts in 199 at-bats. I gave him a Grade C+ in the 2006 book. Interestingly, scouts rated his defense at third base ahead of his hitting at this point.
Gamel spent 2006 with West Virginia in the Sally League, hitting .286/.357/.467 with 17 homers. He improved his plate discipline dramatically, drawing 52 walks against 81 strikeouts in 493 at-bats. However, there were some problems in the numbers. His home/road split was very sharp, .962 OPS at home, .695 on the road. He also made 34 errors, and despite good athleticsm and arm strength, glovework looked like it could be a problem. I gave him another Grade C+.
Moved up to the Florida State League for 2007, Gamel hit .300/.378/.472, with just 9 homers although that's not bad at all for the FSL and his relative production was strong. He maintained the solid plate discipline, but again his glovework was rough with 53 errors! I moved him up to Grade B in the book this year, projecting a possible power breakthrough but still wondering about his position.
Well that breakthrough has occured: Gamel is hitting .370/.434/.630 with 14 homers, 33 walks, and 52 strikeouts in 289 at-bats. Obviously this is outstanding production, and at age 22 he's not old for the level at all. His lefty/right and home/road splits are all balanced. He has "slumped" a bit in June, down to .323/.405/.468...and when that's your worst month so far you know you are going good.
Defense remains the main problem. He's cut his error rate this year...18 errors thus far for a .906 fielding percentage, very poor but not as bad as last year's horrific .826 mark. He has the range and arm strength but may simply never have the reliability. He runs well enough to play an outfield corner, so that's an option eventually, although it would be more convenient if the Brewers had a DH option of course.
I don't know where he is going to fit on the playing field, but I have no doubts about the bat. I'm not sure why Gamel doesnt' get more attention on a national level...he's young, his performance has improved from good to excellent, and there are no holes in his numbers. If he were played for a team on a coast you would hear more about him I imagine.