Originally posted on Fox Sports Wisconsin  |  Last updated 1/31/12
MILWAUKEE After years of waiting, a couple of false starts and a position change, Mat Gamel is finally getting his chance with the Milwaukee Brewers.Gamel, 26, was the Brewers' fourth-round selection (115th overall) in the 2005 Major League Baseballdraft and quickly established himself as one of the top prospects in a stacked Milwaukee system.He's terrorized minor league pitching ever since, posing a a .304 average with 189 doubles, 23 triples, 105 home runs and 503 RBI in seven minor league seasons. Gamel's best season came in 2008, when he hit .239 in 127 games with Class AA Huntsville, earning a late-season promotion to Class AAA Nashville. He earned a spot in the MLB All-Star Futures Game that summer and was named the Minor League Baseball Player of the Year.But every time Gamel has had a chance to break out of spring training with the big league club, he's been stymied by injuries like a sore throwing shoulder in 2009 and a torn lat muscle in 2010. Last season, he suffered a rib cage strain.In limited opportunities as an in-season or September call-up, Gamel has struggled to get accustomed to sporadic playing time and has just a .222 average in 194 career plate appearances.Now, though, with Fielder cashing big time paychecks in Detroit, Gamel's time has come. He's expected to be the starting first baseman when the Brewers open their 2012 season April 6 against St. Louis."I'm real excited," Gamel said during the team's annual On Deck event. "I feel like it's a great opportunity for me. You hate to see a guy like Prince leave, but I'm very thankful for the opportunity that I have."Another problem for Gamel has been the talent ahead of him at the big league level. Drafted as a third baseman during Ryan Braun's rookie season, that position appeared to be blocked for the time being. When Braun was moved to left, Casey McGehee seemed locked into the lineup at third base again, blocking Gamel's path to the majors."A lot of being in the big leagues has to do with luck and timing," Gamel said. "It's a tough lineup to break, especially the positions I've played. Sometimes you just have to wait your turn and hope to take advantage when you get it."Though he'll be filling the infield spot formerly held by Fielder, but Ron Roenicke has no plans to hit him in Fielder's customary cleanup spot. Instead, Roenicke plans to put Gamel in the best possible position to establish some offensive confidence, and let the chips fall where they may."You don't want to put a young guy right in the fire," Roenicke said. "You want to get him comfortable and confident." There is little concern that with consistent at-bats, Gamel will be a productive major league slugger. The real concern, at this point, is whether Gamel will be able to handle playing first base. Drafted as a third baseman, he was never considered a defensive prospect and struggled at times committing 191 errors in his minor league career and eight in 39 major league games.With the possibility of losing Fielder in free agency, the organization started grooming Gamel for either right field or first base, finally moving him across the diamond last season. Gamel enjoyed the move and said he feels more comfortable at first than he did in his previous time at third base."I love first base to be honest with you," Gamel said. "Last year, I played there all year in Nashville and I really liked it."The transition wasn't exactly smooth as Gamel committed 11 errors in 102 games but infield coach Garth Iorg has heard good reports and expects Gamel to do well in the job this season."He looks like he's in great shape, big and a lot stronger," Iorg said. "I haven't really seen him play first base but (former Nashville manager) Don Money told us he really took to it. We're very optimistic."Replacing a legend like Fielder, who hit 230 home runs and drove in 656 over six-plus seasons in a Brewers uniform, will be no easy task but Gamel is ready for the challenge. During the off-season, he said he's upgraded his diet cutting out fast food and hit the weight room with a new focus and plans to be ready to go when pitchers and catchers report to Maryvale on Feb. 18."I believe in my talents and what Im capable of, so I've just got to go out and do what I've done in the past," Gamel said.
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