While a pair of rookies in New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge and LA Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger are lighting up the league with their tape-measure home runs, another rookie is silently making an impact in a different way. Though it was for only a few days in June, Seattle Mariners rookie outfielder Ben Gamel was leading the American League in batting average.
Currently riding an 11-game hitting streak, Gamel is still one of the best kept secrets in the bigs and sits in fifth in the AL for batting average. How big of a secret is he, exactly? On Wednesday, July 19, Gamel smoked a two-run homer over the right field fence in the top of the fourth inning at Minute Maid Park to take a 2-1 lead over the Houston Astros. ESPN posted a video of Gamel’s dinger, but the accompanying caption confused Ben Gamel with his brother Mat, who was last with the Milwaukee Brewers in May 2012. Talk about flying under the radar.
Drafted in the 10th round in 2010, Gamel came up through the Yankees system, made his MLB debut May 6, 2016, logged just 10 plate appearances (1 for 8 with one walk and a sacrifice ground out), then was shipped off to Seattle in a deal for two minor leaguers. After the trade and September roster expansions, Gamel saw significant time on the field and played in 27 games for the Mariners. He finished the season with a .200 batting average in Seattle, .075 points above his stint with the Yankees.
Initially, Gamel wasn’t on the 25-man roster to start the Mariners’ 2017 campaign and started the season with Triple-A Tacoma. It taken take long, however, for a call back to the show after hitting .300 over 19 games. Since that time, Gamel has shown steady improvement at the plate—despite a short slump the end of June—and is batting a crisp .323.
A smart baserunner with tremendous speed, Gamel is always a threat on the base paths. On Saturday, July 22, Gamel led off the bottom of the 10th inning against his former team with a line drive to deep center, good enough for a double. Robinson Cano followed with a no-pitch intentional walk, then Nelson Cruz fired a ground ball through the hole on the left side of the infield. Left fielder Clint Frazier fielded the ball cleanly and fired the ball home. As Frazier released, Gamel rounded third. Depsite an on-target throw, Gamel beat the baseball to the plate and slid home to score the winning run.
Even without the towering home runs, an All-Star Game bid, and a big market to draw attention, Gamel is silently making his mark on MLB by helping to keep the Mariners in the hunt for a Wild Card bid.
Feature photo by Brigham Berthold