Below is a post from Feburary of 2011 detailing the comparison of the minor league stats for Mat Gamel and fellow “third baseman” turned first baseman Brett Wallace of the Houston Astros. Since then, the difference in leagues has sort of broken down the comparison, as Gamel was relegated to the majors for much of 2011 as Wallace spent much of his time as the Astros’ starting first baseman. Gamel continued to cut down on his strikeouts, with his 15.4% rate in 2011 his lowest since 2006 in A-Ball as he posted a .391 wOBA with Nashville. Meanwhile, Wallace continued to struggle with Houston, posting a .259/.334/.369 line in 379 plate appearances. But, at the same time, it’s worth noting Wallace is a full year younger than the 26-year-old (27 in July), something that should temper any optimism with the added year of data.
But, on the other hand:
In today’s column on players who just missed out on rookie eligibility for 2010, Keith Law brings up Brett Wallace, a former hot prospect who has been shuffled around more often than a deck of cards at the Bellagio. Wallace finally ended up in Houston last season after stops with St. Louis, Oakland, and Toronto, coming over in the aftermath of the Roy Oswalt deal. The Astros immediately plugged Wallace into the MLB team, and he struggled mightily, hitting .222/.296/.319 in 159 plate appearances. Here’s what Law had to say about Wallace (insider only).
The way Wallace’s rise to the majors has stalled out has been a hot topic among scouts this winter, since at the time he was drafted the debate was over whether he could play any position well enough to keep him off DH, not whether he’d hit. But the new consensus is that Wallace can’t cover the inner half because he doesn’t fully rotate his back side through his swing, ceding the inside part of the plate to the pitcher, and that it’s not fixable. If anyone can help him, it’s new hitting coach Mike Barnett, who was hitting coach in Toronto while I was in the front office … but the industry has officially jumped off the Wallace bandwagon.
Although the stories aren’t completely analogous, I can’t help but think of Brewers 3B/LF/RF/1B/whatever else Mat Gamel can be considered at this point. Wallace looked like a monster at AAA, but the Major League level has been pure disappointment. We’ve seen something similar with Gamel, although he hasn’t been quite as bad as Wallace. In 167 PAs, Gamel has a .241/.335/.414 line, which could play at some positions but not with the complete lack of defensive ability that Gamel has shown at every level to date. And, unfortunately, their minor league numbers are eerily similar. Take a look:
The two 2009 seasons for Wallace are his stints with Oakland and St. Louis respectively. Wallace doesn’t have the on-base ability that Gamel showed, but he makes up for that, for the most part, by making contact at a much higher rate. However, the similarities are difficult to ignore. Both players have nearly equivalent power numbers and their offensive numbers are buttressed by high batting averages on balls in play, which usually just don’t translate to the majors. Oddly enough, BABIP hasn’t been the problem for either of these players. Wallace’s sits at .326 and Gamel’s at an eye-popping .385, but their other peripheral skills just haven’t showed up yet.
Now, obviously we have to remember that both players MLB lines are in tiny sample sizes. However, both players have to be able to maintain a solidly above-average offensive profile due to their defensive problems. Even if their BB%, K%, and ISO can surge to somewhere near where they sat in the minors, both players need moderately high BABIPs to remain productive in the Major Leagues. So far, I haven’t seen any negative scouting reports with Gamel like the one above on Wallace, but the comparison certainly worries me, as both players seem very, very similar.