Astros newcomer Gattis learning more and more about outfield

March 1, 2015

KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) Evan Gattis is quickly becoming at ease in the clubhouse with his new Houston teammates. Adapting to his new spot on the field might take a little more time.

''I want to play as many positions as I can, but I'm not as comfortable in left field as I am catching,'' Gattis said Sunday at the Astros' camp. ''But my job is to be as prepared as possible to play anywhere.''

It's not that the change isn't welcome.

''I think I'll be able to play more games than if I were catching, just by the nature of the position,'' he said. ''The guys who can catch a lot of games are kind of special. And I want to be on the field the whole year.''


Despite playing in only 105 games as a rookie in 2013 and 108 last season, Gattis is one of only 10 players in the last 20 years to hit 20 home runs in each of his first two seasons.

The Astros want to see what he can do over an entire season.

''That's the prize. That's what I have my eyes on,'' he said. ''I want to get through the year and hopefully the postseason healthy.''

Trying to build a powerful lineup, the Astros acquired Gattis and pitcher James Hoyt from Atlanta in mid-January for pitchers Mike Foltynewicz and Andrew Thurman and infielder Rio Ruiz.

Having traded for switch-hitting catcher Hank Conger to back up Jason Castro, Houston wanted Gattis' bat in the lineup, but not behind the plate.

''We've asked him to go out in left field and focus on one position for now,'' manager A.J. Hinch said.

''I'm not sure he'll catch at all this spring, but I want everyone to know he's not being held away from the catching position because he can't do it. He's invested in our pitchers, he's studying our pitchers, he knows the position very well,'' he said.

Indeed, Gattis has two catcher's masks above his locker and has been attending catchers' meetings. He still thinks of himself as a catcher ''just because I've always been there.''

Gattis played a few games in the outfield as a rookie and in the minors. He never played anything while growing up except catcher and first base.

''Our decision, to try to line up our team the best way possible, is to try to get him to focus on a different position now due to our comfort with Castro and Conger being a good combo,'' Hinch said. ''There's a definite health benefit, too, but he needs more reps in the outfield.''

Gattis said the trade was totally unexpected.

''I guess I didn't see the writing on the wall in what they were doing over there in Atlanta, he said, ''but I always felt they were honest with me, and it wasn't like a personal thing. There's a business side of this game, but I didn't see it coming.''

Gattis and newly acquired Colby Rasmus and Luis Valbuena have been added to a team that hit 163 home runs last year, third most in the American League.

The exhibition season, which starts Thursday for the Astros, will be a crash course in playing left field for Gattis.

''I always thought the outfielders didn't really do much in the spring, but they're kicking my butt out there, which is really good for me,'' he said. ''I'm getting more comfortable as I go, and it's going to be like that.''