Sounds slugger hopes move to first base helps him move up to big leagues

Wednesday, May 11, 2011 at 6:04pm

The Nashville Sounds aren’t leaning on Mat Gamel for his glove or fielding.

And if Gamel is to become an everyday player in the Major Leagues, he knows what that will take. 

“I feel like my bat is my ticket,” he said.

Though Gamel has hit .302 in seven seasons in the minors, if he expects to make the jump up to the Milwaukee Brewers and into the National League, he’ll need to solidify himself at a position. First base could be the answer.

Gamel has moved from the left side of the infield to the right and has started 30 games there for the Sounds, who snapped a nine-game losing streak on Wednesday with a 4-3 comeback victory against the Fresno Grizzlies. The Sounds will play their third game of an eight-game homestand at 7:05 p.m. Thursday against Fresno, the Triple-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants.

First base is a transition for Gamel, who made 72 starts last season at third base, where he spent most of his first six professional season. He hopes the move to first base helps him eventually move up to the Major Leagues.

Brewers first baseman Prince Fielder is a free agent after this season. He will be in high demand and is reportedly eying at least a seven-year deal. 
While the left-handed hitting Gamel might not provide the same amount of power as Fielder — Gamel has never hit more than 19 home runs in one season — his ability to hit for average could give the Brewers an option at first.

“I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable” with Gamel as an everyday starter in 2012, Brewers Assistant General Manager Gord Ash said. “The only thing he doesn’t have is that experience. If we are going to be a Major League contending club, we are going to have to make sure that is a pretty important part of our lineup. I’m not saying he couldn’t do it. But I don’t think at this point you could suggest that is going to be the case. ... At least you have alternatives. Whether it is third, whether it is first, he even played a little in the outfield. When he comes to Milwaukee, he can be inserted into the lineup in a few different places, which is always a good thing.”

Gamel, a fourth-round draft pick by Milwaukee in 2005, has played for the Brewers in each of the last three seasons. He was a September call-up in 2008 and 2010 but was promoted to Milwaukee in May 2009 after a hot start with the Sounds. He played in 61 games for the Brewers that season but struggled to find consistency — he hit .242 with 54 strikeouts.

“I haven’t done anything up there consistently,” Gamel, a native of Jacksonville, Fla., said. “I feel like I can go be an everyday player for someone. But a lot of that is not up to me.”

Lately, though, the 6-foot, 215-pound Gamel has been swinging a hot bat. He is riding a six-game hitting streak and has homered four times in the last five games. His solo blast in the second inning on Wednesday was his fifth of the year and he leads the team with 19 RBIs.

On April 30 against Albuquerque — the Sounds’ last victory before Wednesday — Gamel matched a career-high with a 5-for-5 performance and five RBIs. He was a triple shy of the cycle with three doubles and a home run.

“He is going to hit,” Ash said. “We’ve always thought he is going to hit. It is just a matter of where we can get his bat in the lineup.”

So far, first base looks like the best option. In his first 20 games at the position, he didn’t commit an error and has just three on the season.
 The miscues were more apparent at third base, though. He committed 114 errors at third during the 2006-08 seasons, which he spent at the Low- and High-A levels and in Double-A Huntsville (Ala.). Last year, he had a career-low 16 errors there. Gamel, who has also played in the outfield, never appeared to adjust, especially from a throwing standpoint.

“My footwork was always the issue. I would get lazy with my feet and throw a ball away,” he said. “It is less stressful [at first]. I don’t have to worry about throwing it anywhere. It has to be less stressful for everybody.”

And it could be more rewarding for Gamel, especially with Fielder’s future up in the air.

“That is probably why they were so adamant about me going to first base,” Gamel said. “I don’t care where I play. I just want to play.”