There were many "was nots" and "did nots" attached to Mat Gamel this season. While that may seem confusing or even like a bad thing, in the end, everything worked out just fine for the Milwaukee prospect.
Gamel was not the highest profile prospect in the Brewers system for much of the season. He did not lead the organization in batting, home runs or RBIs. Oh, and he wasn't the centerpiece of the trade that brought C.C. Sabathia to Milwaukee. That honor went to former teammate Matt LaPorta.
But when the 2008 season finally came to a close, the Brewers knew just how valuable Gamel was. As important as acquiring Sabathia was to Milwaukee, the club was able to make the deal without having to part with Gamel. And sure, he didn't lead the organization in batting, mostly due to a bout of elbow tendinitis -- which he kept hidden from the club -- that hampered him over the final five weeks of the season.
Folks around baseball, however, know just how accomplished a player Gamel is. To that end, it was not much of a surprise when it was announced on Wednesday that the former fourth-round selection was named as the 21st annual J.G. Taylor Spink Award winner, emblematic of the Topps/Minor League Player of the Year.
Gamel hit .329 for Double-A Huntsville this season with 19 homers and 96 RBIs. He got bumped up to the Pacific Coast League for five games and even appeared in a pair of September games for the Brewers -- he hit a double in two at-bats -- before the tendinitis finally put him on the shelf for the remainder of the season.
"He was a hitting machine," Milwaukee's director of player development, Reid Nichols, said. "And when you lose a big bat [in the lineup] like LaPorta, he was able to keep going and stay locked in. It says a lot for him as a hitter."
The Neptune Beach, Fla., resident had hitting streaks of 16, 14 and 13 games during the season's first three months. Gamel hit .379 in April; .387 in May, when he was named the SL's Topps Player of the Month; and .381 in June. Gamel also reached base in a league-best 53 consecutive games.
Nichols said that Gamel's tendinitis issue is not serious and that normal rest will take care of the problem.
"It was overuse," Nichols said. "He did a lot of extra work on the infield throwing. He'll be fine. [Players] are all different. We're always teaching them that they have to let us know what's bothering them or we can't help them.
"Everyone is an individual, though. Some guys don't talk about it until they have to. Mat's a tough guy, though. He'll get through it. It's just something he had to deal with."
Whether Gamel gets a chance to crack Milwaukee's lineup on a more regular basis next season won't be determined until the spring. Nichols doesn't make those decisions but pointed out that if he were making the call, Gamel would get every opportunity to do so.
"The talent is there and the work ethic is there," Nichols said. "I'll be pushing for it, but it's not my call."
Other Spink Award winners include Cliff Floyd (1993), Derek Jeter (1994), Johnny Damon (1995), Andruw Jones (1996), Paul Konerko (1997), Eric Chavez (1999), Josh Beckett (2001), Delmon Young (2005), Alex Gordon (2006) and Steven Pearce (2007).