Braves’ scout finds a gem

April 13, 2013 

Gerald Turner first saw Evan Gattis in high school. He was playing in Forney, Texas, located about 20 miles east of Dallas. Turner was actually there scouting a pitcher, Zach Segovia, who became a second-round draft pick for Philadelphia.

But sometimes when scouts go to see one player, they’ll find another prospect. The senior pitcher Turner watched was pretty good, but the younger catcher looked like something special.

“He was a man playing a boys’ game,” Turner said.

Turner was scouting for Kansas City then. He had coached high school baseball in Texas for 32 years before he got into scouting in 1997. In 2008, he joined the Atlanta Braves.

Three and a half years ago, Turner got a phone call from Brian Reinke, the baseball head coach at the University of Texas-Permian Basin in Odessa, TX. Reinke told Turner he needed to come see a player who was starting to look like a prospect.

It was Gattis.

Turner knew Gattis had been on his way to Texas A&M after high school, but then, “All of a sudden, he’s off the face of the Earth,” Turner said. “I didn’t know where he was. As you’ve heard the story, he took what he called a spiritual adventure.”

Gattis had spent time a short time in drug rehab, and then he wandered throughout the West. He worked as a janitor, a valet and even at a ski resort. Then Gattis decided to get back into the game.

When Turner went to see Gattis in Odessa, “He hit about 20 (home runs) out that day, against the wind.”

Then Turner heard Gattis’ interesting story. He went back to see him play three times in the spring of 2010. Turner asked Reinke how Gattis was as a teammate and how he had readjusted to being back in baseball.

“I have to give Brian Reinke the credit,” Turner admitted. “He told me he had been an absolute plus there. He had caused no problems. He had been straight. He was a pleasure to coach. He was very coachable.”

After seeing Gattis hit some more, Turner had no reservations telling the Braves they had to draft Gattis. He was an older college player, so Gattis was not going to be a high draft pick.

Turner told Braves’ scouting director Tony DeMacio, “This is low-risk, with (potential) high reward. You can’t walk away from that type of power.”

And this wasn’t a situation of a team trying to get a college catcher to help pitchers in the minor-league system, as is usually the case when teams draft catchers in the 23rd round or lower. Turner knew Gattis had potential.

“There was definitely something there,” Turner said. “He’s got two plus tools. He’s got 70 raw power and a 60 throwing arm (on an 80-scouting scale). His defensive skills behind the plate have really come a long way.”

When Gattis agreed to sign, for a measly $1,000 bonus, Turner took him to his favorite Mexican restaurant in Dallas.

“We were filling out the paperwork, and he just broke down in tears for the chance to get to play,” Turner remembered. “He wanted a chance. He got the chance, and, bless his heart, he’s made the most of it.”

The Braves brought Turner and his wife to Atlanta earlier this month to watch Gattis make his big-league debut.

“When he hit the home run in his second at-bat, I think I high-fived everybody in the ballpark,” Turner said, laughing.

There’s no better satisfaction for a scout than to see a player he found make it to the big leagues, especially a 23-year-old drafted in the 23rd round. That makes this even more special for Turner.

“I have two sons, and I can remember when my two boys were born. It was kind of like I just got a third son. It was like having a new son in your family.”

Gattis hit his fourth home run of the season Saturday, a two-run shot off Stephen Strasburg, one of the best pitchers in baseball. It was the difference in Atlanta beating Washington 3-1.

Turner was listening on the radio as he scouted a game for the Braves.

“I don’t think you could write a script like this,” Turner said.

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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