Hawaii Winter Baseball Notebook: Mat Gamel

Gamel works on catching waves, ground balls in Hawaii




WAIPAHU, Hawaii--Being a native of Florida, Mat Gamel is no stranger to surfing.

So the Brewers third baseman was pleased when he was assigned to Hawaii Winter Baseball. Now, the first-timer to the 50th state can say he has surfed in two different oceans.

"(I've) been surfing since I was little kid," said Gamel, who plays for the North Shore Honu. 'You have all open ocean here, deep water, more powerful waves."

But the real reason the Brewers sent him here wasn't to master waves. The 55 errors in 128 games he was charged with in the high Class A Florida State League at Brevard County had a little more to do with it.

"I'm pretty excited to come out here and work on my defense," Gamel said. "I kind of struggled earlier in the season with my defense. It's been getting a lot better and there's some improvement. So I have to keep coming out, keep working on it."

Honu manager Kevin Bradshaw knows first hand about Gamel. Bradshaw was the manager at Lakeland in the FSL. And there's still work to be done--so far, Gamel has been charged with four errors in 12 games.

"Mat had a lot of throwing errors this past season," Bradshaw said. "There's a few things he does mechanically on his throws and he has made some adjustments with that."

But there is no doubting Gamel's ability to handle the bat after a .300/.378/.472 season for the Manatees. The 6-foot, 205-pound lefthanded hitter has not missed a beat in HWB. As of Oct. 15, he was batting .318/.388/.659.

His four home runs tie him for the league lead and his slugging percentage ranks third in a league in which the pitching has been exceptional.

"I notice there's a little bit better breaking stuff," Gamel said. "They're not afraid to throw it at any count, but that's good."

Bradshaw sees a bright future for Gamel.

"He's a type of guy who can keep his hands inside and hit the ball to all fields," Bradshaw said. "As he gets bigger and stronger and matures as hitter, I think you'll see some great things from that kid because he has the ability to hit the ball out (of the park) to all fields, but also use the whole field to hit for average . . . a high average."

Gamel said he likes being in the Brewers organization because it is will take a chance on young players in the big leagues. Milwaukee already boasts an infield of twenty-somethings in first baseman Prince Fielder (23), second baseman Rickie Weeks (25), shortstop J.J. Hardy (25) and third baseman Ryan Braun (23).

"I'm pretty excited about being with the Brewers because they're pretty good about getting guys that they draft up to through their system and up to the big leagues," he said. "Look at their infield, they got Prince, Rickie, J.J. and now Braun. That's a pretty young infield, so, it's good and bad, I guess. It's good in that they get the young guys up there, but it's tough for the guys in the minor leagues."

Gamel said all he can do is work on his fielding here and then try to get the Brewers to take notice of him during spring training. But in the meantime, there's still time for fun in Hawaii.

"It's definitely better to be here than instructional league," he said.

Switch-Fielding

His first time to Hawaii, Chris Valaika was playing shortstop for UC Santa Barbara against the University of Hawaii in 2006.

He has returned to the islands, not only as a pro but now a second baseman. The Reds want their 2006 third-round pick to learn the position while playing for the North Shore Honu.

"Cincinnati wants me to start working on second base and hopefully all around the infield," he said. "It's just a couple more tools to have."

Bradshaw said he had been informed by Reds officials about the position change.

"One part of coming here is learning a new position," the Honu skipper said. "He's taking to second base pretty well. The Cincinnati Reds think his best chance to get to the big leagues is to play second base, so he's made some good adjustments to that position."

Valaika started the past season at low Class A Dayton, where he batted .307/.353/.493 in 300 at-bats, earning a trip to the all-star game. He was promoted to high Class A Sarasota in July, where he hit .253/.310/.352. But one area Valaika needs to get better is controlling the zone--he drew just 30 walks compared to 114 strikeouts in his first full season.

"Offensively, I think I need to work on some plate discipline, having some better at-bats," he said. "Defensively, I need the consistency and confidence to play everywhere in the infield."

Homegrown Talent

Although the White Sox were not originally providing players to HWB, they apparently made an exception for catcher Matt Inouye, their 21st-round pick from 2006 out of the University of Hawaii.

Injuries to other players opened a spot for Inouye, a 2002 graduate of Honolulu's Mid-Pacific Institute, where he was drafted by the Red Sox in the 41st round that year.

He joined the Waikiki BeachBoys a week into the season.

"I'm getting a lot of experience playing against guys (who played) at high levels," Inouye said. "I'm just happy to be here and happy for the opportunity to play with these guys."

Since turning pro, Inouye has been hampered by injuries of his own. A broken hamate in his left hand set him back this past season, putting him in extended spring training. He was later assigned to Rookie-level Great Falls, where he played in just 40 games and batted .309/.400/.537 in 123 at-bats. Any at-bats or innings on defense from HWB will only help him when he returns to spring training in February.

At UH, Inouye was used primarily as an outfielder, but the White Sox drafted him as a catcher.

"I've always loved catching," he said. "I didn't catch too much in college, but I like catching and I hope to stay behind the plate as long as I can."