Gamel Off To Scorching Start For Thunder
When the season began just a few short weeks ago for the Trenton Thunder, much of the clubs success was thought to be hinged on top-prospects Gary Sanchez and Mason Williams. As the Thunder find themselves winners in eight out of their last ten ballgames and 12-7 overall, the unlikely offensive catalyst has emerged to be outfielder Ben Gamel.
Gamel has played every single day and has not shown an ounce of fatigue during his hot start. The lefty is hitting .333 with a .398 on-base percentage and has reached base safely in 18 consecutive games.
Gamel was moved up into the number two spot in the lineup by Manager Tony Franklin after the first week of the season and that switch appears to have jumpstarted not only Gamel, but the entire offensive dynamic for the Thunder.
Now in his fifth professional season, Gamel is a career .285 hitter and is still a very ripe 21-years of age after being selected by the Yankees out of Bishop Kenny High School in the tenth round of the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft. Gamel has advanced rapidly through the system, showing immense growth at every level of the minor leagues. By Eastern League standards, Gamel is on the young side, but his stage of development is quite advanced for the level. The ability to remain poised and patient at the top of a lineup is not an easy task for a young hitter; having played in only 35 career games in the minor leagues upper levels, Gamel has had a knack for getting on-base and scoring during a time when the talent level of pitching has put a premium on offense and the value of a run.
Over the last ten games, Gamel has been scorching, hitting .385 with a .455 on-base mark and has driven in five runs over that span. Gamel currently stands at fourth overall in the Eastern League with 25 hits and ranks seventh in runs with 12.
“When they’re hot, you don’t say much to them,” said Franklin. “I just say, keep swinging and keep playing. He is swinging very well and he seems to be barreling the ball very well. His hits aren’t cheap; they’re all hard hit balls.”
Gamel believes that the torrid start to his 2014 campaign is directly attributed to the refined and simple approach that he is taking once he steps into the batters box.
“I’m just trying to pick out one pitch in an at-bat and trying not to miss it,” admitted Gamel. “I think that I have been doing that pretty well lately. Right now, I’m just not missing my pitch; I’m finding a pitch that I can drive or put my barrel on.”
Franklin had originally penciled in second baseman Rob Refsnyder as his two-hole hitter when the season began, but after seeing him struggle immensely early on, he simply wanted to give Gamel an opportunity at the top of the order and he seems to have made it his home.
“His approach is a little bit different now,” said Franklin. “The biggest difference that I can see in him is that he is getting hits all over the field which tells me that he is very comfortable.”
Sliding Gamel up in the lineup along with the additions of slugging first baseman Kyle Roller and gritty outfielder Tyler Austin from the disabled list has brought extreme length to the Trenton lineup. It appears as though the depth of talent from top to bottom has allowed everybody in the lineup to ease up and relax while the opposing pitchers cannot afford to pitch around any particular spot. As a team, Trenton has catapulted from the bottom half of the Eastern League to the top-four in hits, runs, total bases, on-base percentage and batting average since Gamel was moved up in the lineup.
“It is easy for me when I have got guys all around who are hitting and playing well,” Gamel said. “They cant really attack one guy because there isn’t a weakness in our lineup right now.”
Gamel added,” All of us pick each other up. If one of us is not getting the job done then the person behind us is going to step up. Pitchers cannot really afford to walk people with our lineup so you know that you are probably going to get one or two good pitches to hit in every at-bat and I’m just trying to barrel those pitches up and take a good swing.”
Franklin has never been shy about throwing young and inexperienced players into pressure-filled situations late in the year; Gamel was no exception in 2013. After hitting just .239 in 16 games for the Thunder at the end of last season, Franklin remained confident in the young outfielder by giving him substantial playing time in the postseason. Gamel rewarded him by hitting .533 and driving in three runs in the teams championship run.
“It’s always good to get your feet wet and to know what to expect,” said Gamel. “I think that coming up last year for the playoffs and however many games, was huge for me going into this year.”
Gamel believes that his hot hitting and the teams winning surge over the last two weeks is nothing above what should be expected. After a slow start, Gamel says that the team is beginning to establish its identity in all facets of the game and that makes them a dangerous matchup for any club in the league.
“We have a good lineup, we have a good starting rotation and a good pen,” said Gamel. “When we are all on that same page, we are tough to beat.”
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