All Ben Gamel wanted was a chance. So when the call came in, informing him that he’d been traded from the Yankees to the Mariners, he didn’t see it as being traded from the most storied team in baseball to a lesser-known team the other side of the country, three time zones away from his family in Florida. All he saw was a chance.
When Gamel didn’t make the team out of spring training, he was disappointed but understanding; Leonys Martín was installed as the teams’s center fielder, along with Jarrod Dyson, and Mitch Haniger was a lock for right. Guillermo Heredia had played like a man possessed throughout spring training. So Gamel, the former International League MVP, went back to a familiar place—albeit the PCL this time—to wait for his chance.
Waiting was the story of his career as part of the Yankees system. Drafted in 2010, Gamel’s progress through New York’s system went at the breakneck speed of a drugged caterpillar. He ground through every A-level, putting up solid numbers at each before stumbling a little at Double-A, where he posted the first sub-100 wRC+ of his career. Nonetheless, he was promoted to Triple-A in 2015, where he slashed .300/.358/.472 and hit a career-best 10 HR while keeping his strikeouts in check. Despite this strong showing, there was no room for Gamel in a Yankee outfield with the recent contract extensions of Brett Gardner and Jacoby Ellsbury, plus the rise of one of Gamel’s teammates in Triple-A Scranton, Aaron Judge. The Yankees also seemed to prefer Mason Williams, for reasons that remain unclear to this writer, and were happy enough to take two teenaged pitching prospects in return for Gamel, much like you would be happy to accept a bag handed out to you by a harried McDonald’s cashier at closing time rather than a finely marbled steak.
So Gamel recognized the trade to Seattle for what it was: a chance. Even if he had to battle his way into a spot, at least he was going to a team that wanted and valued him. And Gamel didn’t have to wait long for his chance to arrive; after 18 games at Tacoma, during which he walked more than he struck out and had a career-high OBP of .419, Gamel was summoned to Seattle to replace an injured Mitch Haniger. All he’s done since is put up a wRC+ of 128 in the first half, briefly lead the AL in hitting, and hit six home runs, on pace to beat his season-high of 10 in Triple-A. Despite being a lefty, Gamel has thus far shown almost no significant handedness split, and actually has hit lefties a shade better (wRC+ of 131 vs 128).
But have we fully appreciated Ben Gamel? I haven’t. I admit to not liking this trade initially; I always take a dim view of trading pitching prospects out of this organization, even young ones, for a commodity we seem to have in bulk. It’s easy to look at his .414 BABIP and suspect that luck is driving Gamel’s success. But Grant examined Gamel’s numbers back in mid-June and looked at what was influencing his power surge, and many of those numbers are starting to stabilize. Gamel’s BABIP is down a whopping fifty points from where it was, but he’s still hitting plenty of line drives and making the same kind of contact he did in the first half. He’s been punishing fastballs, but last night Ben Gamel reminded everyone that if you hang a curve, he can do this as well:
The narrative for last night is EX-YANKEE Ben Gamel makes his old team pay, because it’s the Yankees, and certainly, there’s something sweet about that. But last night was Ben Gamel’s big chance to shine as a Mariner, for the Mariners. It was someone taking their chance....
...and running with it.