07/07/08 10:00 AM ET
Meet the Future: U.S. corner infielders
Gamel, LaPorta, Hodges to play at Yankee Stadum on July 13
By Kevin T. Czerwinski / MLB.com
They have power, they hit for average and they produce. And they'll be at Yankee Stadium on Sunday to give the rest of the world a glimpse of what teams on the Double-A level have already found out this season. These guys can produce and figure to keep producing throughout the summer, whether it's at Double-A, Triple-A, the big leagues or the Far East.
Here's a closer look at the players comprising the corner infielders on the U.S. squad.
Mat Gamel, 3B, Huntsville (Double-A, Brewers)
There's nothing quite like chasing a Triple Crown and that's exactly what Gamel is doing as the Southern League season eases past the halfway point. Gamel leads the league in average (.374), RBIs (75) and is third in home runs (15).
If that's not enough, he's also leading the league in hits, doubles, slugging percentage, extra-base hits and runs scored. Gamel was second in triples and on-base percentage, looking like a sure lock to win the circuit's MVP Award should the Brewers choose to keep him there for an entire season. For now, why not?
The only blip on his resume at the moment comes in the form of the 22 errors he's committed thus far. That leads all Southern League third basemen by a far margin and is also the highest total among all Southern League infielders. His 53 errors were tops in the Minors last year. Still, it's not nearly enough to detract from the season, the career actually, that he's had since the Brewers took him out of a Florida junior college in the fourth round of the 2005 Draft.
Gamel put together a 33-game hitting streak last year, the longest the Florida State League had seen in a half century, and has already had a 16-game hitting streak this year.
Matt LaPorta, 1B, Huntsville (Double-A, Brewers)
The Brewers caught a few people off guard when the grabbed LaPorta with their top pick in the 2007 Draft. No one's questioning that move now as he's become the centerpiece of a trade that is near to bringing C.C. Sabathia to Milwaukee.
LaPorta leads the Southern League in homers (20) and is second only to Gamel with 66 RBIs. He trails only Gamel in extra-base hits and was third in slugging percentage. LaPorta's average has also hovered around .300 for much of the year while his on-base percentage has stayed around or above .400. He's shown a good eye at the plate, drawing 43 walks while striking out 62 times, a very good ratio for a slugger.
While LaPorta was named a corner infielder -- that's pretty much where he played in college -- though he's primarily been an outfielder since Milwaukee took him with the No. 7 overall pick. LaPorta has been in the outfield for every game this season save the two he's played at first and the three he's served as the designated hitter. He also played there extensively during the regular season and in the Arizona Fall League last year.
The Brewers didn't have a need for him in the infield, some guy named Fielder is playing first in Milwaukee, so they converted him into an outfielder after he was drafted. He has only one error and five assists through 130 chances so it would appear as if the transition has been a successful one even if he won't play the outfield at Yankee Stadium next week.
Wes Hodges, 3B, Akron Aeros (Double-A Cleveland)
Hodges was added to the team late last month, replacing Chris Davis, who was promoted to Texas. Davis had been one of the most productive hitters in the Minor Leagues this season, combining to hit .333 with 23 homers and 73 RBIs while splitting time between Double-A Frisco of the Texas League and Triple-A Oklahoma City of the Pacific Coast League.
The Indians grabbed Hodges in the second round of the 2006 Draft out of Georgia. While that's a lofty spot in which to be chosen, it would seem that Hodges has not only lived up to the expectations that come with such a selection, he's surpassed them, playing more like a first-rounder this season in the Eastern League.
Hodges is leading the league in RBIs (69) and is second with 99 hits. He has an impressive .466 slugging percentage and has even stolen a few bases. He had 27 multi-hit games and was hitting .307, 19 points higher than he hit last season when injuries slowed him a bit at Kinston of the Carolina League.
While Hodges has had to deal with a few injuries in the past, they have been injuries of coincidence or circumstance not ones that are chronic, as has been the case with Michael Aubrey. Hodges has stayed on the field this season and demonstrated that he is every bit the run producer Cleveland hoped he would be. Defensively, his 15 errors are tied for second most among Eastern League third basemen.
Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.