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Despite demotion, Gamel’s Milwaukee stint a success

Mat Gamel had to know the bad news was coming the moment he heard about Felipe Lopez’s acquisition from Arizona. While he had been pretty useful as a part-timer for the last two-plus months, the Brewers appeared to be looking for an excuse to send him back down, if only until Sept. 1. They certainly weren’t going to reduce his role further when they had the opportunity to play him regularly in Triple-A.

At least Gamel did get much more of a taste of the majors than originally expected. The 23-year-old was called up on May 14 to help out as a DH in AL parks during interleague play, but as a result of Rickie Weeks’ season-ending wrist injury, he ended up spending more than two months in the majors. Unfortunately, the Brewers never did commit to him during that time, though perhaps they would have if not for Casey McGehee’s sudden emergence.

Gamel returns to Triple-A with a rather undistinguished .239/.336/.407 line in 113 at-bats. However, that hardly tells the whole story. When the Brewers started using him at third base, he hit .267/.341/.493 in 75 at-bats. His struggles came during those games at designated hitter and as a pinch-hitter off the bench. Also, he was very likely unlucky to have such a modest batting average. According to Baseball Info Solutions data, Gamel hit line drives in 27.9 percent of his at-bats, a higher percentage than any batting title qualifier in either league.

Of course, defense was the main knock on Gamel as a prospect. He committed 53 errors in 128 games in the Florida State League in 2007 and then 32 in 131 games between Double- and Triple-A last year. Most believed he’d be forced to the outfield, much like Ryan Braun before him. However, he was quite a nice surprise for the Brewers at the hot corner. While he did commit four errors in 23 games, he showed plus range, leaving him with a slightly above average UZR. It’s too early to say he won’t be a liability, but the Brewers should be willing to keep him at third next year based on his showing.

And Gamel will be a regular next season. The Brewers have refused to discuss him in trade talks, and McGehee and Bill Hall aren’t going to be long-term obstacles. By sending him down now, the Brewers are weakening their team a bit, but it’s probably worth it with the likelihood that they’ll save millions in the future. Since Gamel was called up just 5 1/2 weeks into the season, he likely would have been a super-two player had he remained in the majors for the rest of 2009 and all of 2010. The additional month in the minors will guarantee that he misses the cutoff.