Evan Gattis, a 26-year-old prospect who spent four years out of baseball, was told Wednesday morning that he had claimed the final spot on the Braves’ bench, answering one of the last remaining questions as the team prepares for Opening Day.
With Brian McCann out with a shoulder injury, Gattis will join Gerald Laird as the team’s options at catcher.
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Laird was signed to be the starter in McCann’s absence, but with Laird nursing a left calf strain and returning to the lineup Tuesday for the first time since March 17, manager Fredi Gonzalez said Wednesday that Laird and Gattis could share duties until the All-Star McCann returns in mid-to-late April.
The 16th-ranked prospect in the Braves’ system, Gattis has put on a show in the Grapefruit League this spring, hitting .358 with five home runs, 15 RBI and a 1.111 OPS in 53 at-bats. He beat out fellow catcher Matt Pagnozzi, who had a .355 average this spring with a double, a triple and five RBI in 31 at-bats. He has been reassigned to Triple-A Gwinnett.
The 6-foot-4, 240 pound right-hander certainly has potential, but the question is whether it will translate to the majors? At an age when most prospects have at least had a stint in the big leagues, Gattis has never played above Double-A ball.
It’s a big jump, but Gattis hasn’t been one to do things on a normal trajectory, though as he told FOX Sports South: “I haven’t really thought about it. It’s the only baseball career I’ve had.”
Originally signed to play at Texas A&M in 2004 out of Dallas’ Bishop Lynch High, Gattis never played a game as he dealt with depression and drug and alcohol issues.
After enrolling at Seminole State College, a junior college in Oklahoma, he suffered a knee injury and was redshirted. He left school and would work at a pizza parlor, as a ski-lift operator and a janitor before he joined the University of Texas-Permian Basin, where he hit .403 with 11 home runs in his only season. He impressed the Braves, who drafted him in the 23rd round in 2010.
He put his power on display in Class-A Rome in ’11 and the Gulf Coast League affiliate, Single-A Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi last season, hitting a combined 40 home runs. It continued this winter in Venezuela, where Gattis earned nickname “El Oso Blanco” (The White Bear), as he delivered 16 home runs and a .595 average while playing for Aguilas.
While Gonzalez said in February that it’s Gattis’ bat that would carry him this spring, he’s shown himself to be above-average defensively. There have been hiccups, like his mishandling a couple of Mike Minor’s pitches on Monday against the Mets, but overall he’s been significantly better than expected.
Even after McCann’s return, Gattis could still have a place on the roster, having played left field in the past and Gonzalez has mentioned him potentially spelling Freddie Freeman at first base. There’s also the possibility of him being used as the designated hitter with interleague games now sprinkled throughout the season.