Tacoma Rainiers outfielder Ben Gamel entered the 2017 season with credentials that suggest he might have made the big-league roster out of spring training.
The 24-year-old won the International League MVP last season as a Triple-A player in the New York Yankees organization, played in 27 games for the Seattle Mariners after coming over in a late-August trade for a pair of minor league pitchers, then performed well enough this spring — .258 batting average, .824 OPS, three homers, four doubles and 10 RBIs in 62 at-bats — to merit consideration as the final outfielder on the Mariners’ 25-man roster.
But that spot went instead to Guillermo Heredia, a slick-fielding, right-handed hitter who batted .365 this spring with a .970 OPS, 10 RBIs and nine doubles.
Still, as Gamel begins another season in Triple-A — even after tearing up the International League a year ago — he does so with no hard feelings, nor any disappointment over not making the big-league club.
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“Obviously, everyone’s goal is to be in the big leagues,” Gamel said prior to Thursday’s doubleheader against El Paso. “But it was fine. Heredia had a great camp. He’s easy to root for, too. He’s a great teammate, great clubhouse guy. So I have nothing but good things to say about Heredia.
“He won the job. He plays hard, plays the game the right way. I felt like I had a good camp, but obviously they went with Heredia. And that’s the thing — everyone’s like, it’s a competition, but it’s not. It never even felt like that. He’s a great guy, and I’m happy for him.”
Plus, Rainiers manager Pat Listach said, Gamel is going to get his chances with the Mariners — particularly if they find themselves in need of a left-handed bat.
“I think it’s going to boil down to who we’re facing up in the big leagues,” Listach said. “If they’re facing lefties, I could see Heredia up there. If they’re facing a bunch of righties in a row, I could see Gamel up there. I think that’s how (Mariners manager) Scott Servais and (general manager) Jerry Dipoto see it as well. We’ll see how it goes.”
Gamel, a 10th-round pick by the Yankees in 2010, batted .308 with six home runs, 51 RBI, 26 doubles and 19 stolen bases for Triple-A Scranton to win IL MVP honors. After being traded, he hit .200 with a homer and two doubles in 47 plate appearances with the Mariners.
That big-league experience, Gamel said, “was awesome. Just kind of getting my feet wet, getting a feel for the guys in the clubhouse. It was definitely a learning experience, watching people go about their day and how they handle their business.”
Listach, who said Gamel “just needs to play” while he’s in Tacoma, is confident the outfielder will be back in Seattle sooner than later.
“I could see him in the big leagues a lot this summer,” Listach said. “I really could. He’s a major part of our plans going forward.”
Tacoma continues its four-game series against El Paso with a 7:05 p.m. game Friday at Cheney Stadium. Right-hander Dylan Unsworth (0-1, 3.18 ERA) is scheduled to pitch for the Rainiers against Chihuahuas right-hander Dinelson Lamet (1-0, 0.00).