Gattis the name to watch for Braves

sports@macon.comFebruary 23, 2013 

Every spring there’s a player who everyone wants to see in a major league training camp. He’s a hot prospect coming off a great minor league season. He might even be a top draft pick from the previous year.

Through the years, the Atlanta Braves have had their fair share of prospects you wanted to see in February and March. Remember Steve Avery 24 years ago? He was as big a pitching prospect as you’ll ever see. Then two years later Chipper Jones, a top pick in the draft, was the hotshot prospect. Goodness knows three springs ago Jason Heyward was not only the chatter of Braves’ camp but the talk of the Grapefruit League with his car window-smashing home runs.

Those players were still in their late-teens when they caused a commotion. But this spring, the Braves have a player you’ll be itching to watch who is old enough to be a five-year veteran.

Evan Gattis is 26 years old, three years older than Heyward. He’s not a kid who has hardly shaved or one waiting for his first real girlfriend like many of the younger spring phenoms. Instead, Gattis is old enough to make you want to call him Crash Davis, from “Bull Durham” fame.

But this is not a player who has toiled in the minor leagues forever. That makes Gattis more like Roy Hobbs, from “The Natural.” Gattis has kind of come out of nowhere, like Hobbs did, and he is now someone that people want to see hit a baseball.

Gattis’ story could be a movie. He was going to play at Texas A&M out of high school, but the thought of playing college ball terrified him. Gattis instead went to a junior college, after a stint in a 30-day drug rehab facility. But a knee injury forced him to quit after only one year.

Then, Gattis simply wandered the west. Here’s where the movie part comes in. He was a janitor in Dallas, and then he moved to a hostel in New Mexico, before moving to Wyoming where he worked at Yellowstone National Park. Then, he traveled through California, before finally deciding to give baseball one more try.

That’s likely the CliffsNotes version of what really happened in his exploration of life out west.

Gattis then enrolled at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin. He did well enough that the Braves took him in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft.

Since becoming a Braves prospect, Gattis has done two things: hit and gotten hurt. He has 44 home runs in 933 plate appearances in the minors. But a wrist injury last season kept the Braves from seeing just how special this older prospect might actually be.

We heard reports even last spring that Gattis had hit monster home runs in batting practice. Then when he had the success he had in the minors, more people got interested. After Gattis recovered from his wrist injury, he went to Venezuela this winter and hit 16 home runs in 195 at-bats.

Have Gattis’ home runs this spring gotten the Braves’ attention? Well, Chipper Jones went to camp as a guest instructor last week. After seeing Gattis take batting practice, Jones tweeted, “If u wanna see something really special, watch Evan Gattis hit a baseball. Some serious thump!”

And what happened in Gattis’ third plate appearance Saturday, in his first game of the spring? He hit a line-drive home run to left-field.

The Braves’ lineup is pretty much set. There is little chance of Gattis being a starter on this team. But if this continues, Gattis has a great chance at being on the bench. He can catch, play left field and first base. That’s an unusual combination of positions. But it will be Gattis’ bat that will win him a job if this keeps up.

Who knows how this story will go? Gattis could be the next Brad Komminsk, a player who hits great in the minors but flops in the majors. Or he may, in fact, be that player that movies are made about.

Either way, this spring, Evan Gattis is the name to keep an eye on in Atlanta’s camp.

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

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