Gattis gives the Braves tremendous flexibility

Macon TelegraphFebruary 19, 2013 

Evan Gattis is a hitter. He makes people take note of his ability to hit the ball a long way every time he climbs in the batting cage and takes a few swings.

 

But Gattis is a man without a position, and that makes his future, his story, an interesting one for the Atlanta Braves.

 

Gattis was drafted as a catcher. He's what baseball people call "serviceable" behind the plate, which means he's a good hitter that has to play somewhere in the National League.

 

When it became obvious last year Gattis was more than just another minor leaguer, and that he might actually have a future in the big leagues, the Braves moved him to left field.

 

They've already got a catcher. Brian McCann has been in the All-Star game six times. He's won the Silver Slugger award five times. And as great as Gattis' potential might be, it was unlikely he was ever going to move McCann from his spot.

 

So the Braves moved Gattis to left field, the position that has always been a revolving door for this team. Gattis did alright, again serviceable, but then he got hurt and was unable to show the Braves exactly how good he might be as a left fielder.

 

Perhaps if Gattis had shown over a period of time he was going to be decent in the outfield the Braves would have never traded for Justin Upton. But the fit was too perfect, particularly considering his brother B.J. had signed with the team two months earlier.

 

So now Gattis is stuck in baseball purgatory. He can catch, but the Braves have McCann. He can play left, but the Braves have Justin Upton. He might even be able to play first base a bit, but the Braves have Freddie Freeman.

 

What happens if Gattis is the real deal at the plate, and if this is not a fluke? What happens if Gattis continues to show that he could be the next feared Adam Dunn-like power hitter in the NL? What happens if the Braves can't remove him from the lineup, even though they don't know where to play him?

 

It's one of those great dilemmas teams pray for. They love issues like this. They love to have unusual circumstances pop up to give them more leverage and more talent.

 

There is little doubt Gattis can hit. He's got 44 home runs in 933 minor league plate appearances. He tore up the Venezuelan League this winter in his comeback from his wrist injury. Now he's grabbing everyone's attention in Florida with his pure power.

 

There's that whole "he's barely played above High-A" deal, and there's no doubt that is an issue. It would be better if he had a full season in AA under his belt. Maybe then there would be less skepticism about what he's doing now.

 

Maybe Gattis can make this Atlanta roster as a third catcher, backup left fielder and backup first baseman. Then he would probably be Atlanta's best bat off the bench.

 

But what if he's better than that? What if Gattis shows he needs to be at the plate every day for a major league team?

 

The Braves could pray that Gattis learns how to play third base, which is their weak spot right now. But if Juan Francisco and/or Chris Johnson show they can handle that position, would Gattis even be needed there?

 

If Gattis is the real deal, and by that meaning someone who could hit 30 home runs in a major league season, the Braves are either going to have to find room for him or trade him.

 

Is Gattis the next Mike Hessman? The next Brad Komminsk? They were both power hitters in the minors who never did much of anything in the big leagues.

 

Gattis seems different. Perhaps it's the road he's traveled and the struggles he's had that makes him someone that could actually make it, instead of being that flash in the pan.

 

Here's a thought: what if Gattis shows he's the real deal, either with occasional at bats or with regular playing time in Triple-A, and then the Braves seek to trade him for someone who could play a position in the field?

 

Look to the American League, which of course has the designated hitter. Maybe that's where Gattis needs to be - on a team where he can just hit and not worry about grabbing his glove.

 

What if, for example, the Tigers wanted Gattis in exchange for third base prospect Nick Castellanos? Castellanos is blocked by Miguel Cabrera at third. He's been moved to left field, even though third base is his best position.

 

Could Gattis build his value up enough to where the Braves could do a one-for-one swap with Detroit for Castellanos? If Gattis keeps hitting balls the way he has in the last year, why not?

 

What if the Rangers wanted Gattis to be a DH? They have Mike Olt blocked with Jurickson Profar probably slated for third base? How about Boston? The Red Sox have several third base prospects.

 

The Diamondbacks now have top prospect Matt Davidson blocked with Martin Prado locked into a long-term contract. San Diego has both Chase Healey and Jedd Gyorko. Headley is available right now, while Gyorko is his potential replacement.

 

Could you imagine Gattis in Colorado? The Rockies have Nolan Arenado, who is a top third base prospect. That might be a good trade.

 

The point is Gattis can get this Atlanta team a third base prospect if it becomes too difficult to get him playing time in a Braves uniform. If he keeps hitting balls out of ballparks, Gattis is going to have as much or more value than the prospects we've mentioned.

There’s another part of this ‘dilemma’ that should be considered. McCann is a free agent after this season. It’s unlikely the Braves will sign him to a long-term contract, since he’ll turn 30 before the 2014 season begins.

 

So what if Gattis goes to Triple-A and has a full and healthy season and does well behind the plate? Then what if top prospect Christian Bethancourt goes back to Double-A and has a full and healthy season and does well?

The Braves will have two outstanding candidates to replace McCann, if the team allows the free agent to walk away at the end of the season. That would almost be like when the Braves had McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia eight years ago.

 

Perhaps by then Gattis would prove whether he can catch full-time or not. If not, American League teams will circle the Braves like sharks waiting for them to put Gattis in a trade.

 

This is sort of like the problem the Dodgers had in 1998. They had a top catching prospect named Paul Konerko. But the Dodgers really didn’t believe Konerko could be a full-time major league catcher. They were not going to re-sign their own catcher, Mike Piazza, who like McCann was getting close to 30, but they did not consider Konerko a potential replacement.

 

They had Eric Karros at first base and Adrian Beltre at third base, so there was really no room for Konerko. The Dodgers maximized his value and traded Konerko to Cincinnati for closer Jeff Shaw.

 

The Braves may be able to do that with Gattis. But first, they’ve got to make sure they can’t find room for him in the lineup. It’s a good problem to have, and it gives the Braves plenty of leverage and flexibility moving forward.

 

 

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and e-mail him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

 

 

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