Braves cautiously enamored with Gattis’ power

The legend of Evan Gattis continues to grow.

At 6-foot-4, 230 pounds, he’s already big, but he’s become Paul Bunyan-like in appearance.
Satellites are needed to track his home runs. Tales of his feats and deeds are becoming mythic in proportion, crossing international boundaries.

Amazing, no doubt.

Especially for a 26-year-old who wandered away from the game for the better part of six years and hasn’t had an at-bat above Double-A.

The Braves are cautiously enamored about Gattis, a catcher who began learning left field last year because it might fast track him to the majors.

It’s thought Gattis is even being considered to help fill the void behind the plate for the first month of the 2013 season while Brian McCann finishes rehabbing from surgery on his right shoulder. But that duty most likely will go to Christian Bethancourt, a stronger defensive player and one of the Braves’ top prospects.

One thing is for sure, Gattis can hit and he can hit for power.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez repeatedly mentioned Gattis last summer, seemingly still in awe of his spring training power displays, and general manager Frank Wren has talked about Gattis’ ability to hit. Wren doesn’t care about Gattis’ age and continues to look at him as a prospect.

The Braves think Gattis, who has hit with power at every level he’s played, is developing so quickly that they think he’ll play for the big club soon. Gattis damaged South Atlantic League pitchers in 2011, hitting .322 with 22 homers and 71 RBI in 88 games for Low-A Rome.

He then crushed balls and egos in the Carolina League at the start of 2012, hitting .385 with nine home runs and 29 RBI in 21 games for High-A Lynchburg before being promoted to Double-A Mississippi.

A wrist injury caused him to miss about two months, but he still played 74 total games last season. Split between Mississippi (49 games), Lynchurg (21) and the Gulf Coast League Braves (four), Gattis hit .305 with 18 home runs and 67 RBI.

This winter, Gattis has become a hero in Venezuela, where his exploits have included hitting plenty of home runs for Aguilas de Zulia.

Through Tuesday, Gattis is sixth in the league with eight homers and fifth with 26 RBI in just 36 games. He’s hitting .279 overall, but has hit .317 with three homers and eight RBIs in his past 10 games. His two-run home run in the top of the ninth gave Aguilas de Zulia a 3-1 win on Friday.

The Braves plan is for Gattis to receive playing time at catcher and in left field in Venezuela, and he’s scheduled to begin next season at Triple-A Gwinnett.

Not bad for someone with only 182 at-bats in Double-A.

Some folks know that Gattis’ sojourn away from baseball included time in drug rehab, working a bunch of odd jobs in several states and seeking guidance from spiritual gurus.

He played some ball at a junior college in Oklahoma, but for the most part, Gattis was away from the sport from 2004-10, when most players are developing their skills in the minors and possibly breaking into the big leagues.

After years of doing his own thing, Gattis returned to baseball, enrolling at a school called Texas-Permian Basin. His lone impressive season led the Braves to draft him in 2010, but he wasn’t in their thoughts until he joined Rome’s roster in 2011.

Now the Braves have a plan for Gattis, like sending him to Venezuela this winter instead of the Arizona Fall League, and they chart his future. With a possible vacancy in left at Turner Field in 2013, and if Gattis has a massive spring, he might just skip Gwinnett.

That would only add to his legend.