Examining the most interesting man in Braves Country.
There really isn't any player in baseball history to compare Braves slugger Evan Gattis to. Despite already being 25 years old, Gattis has played very little professional baseball over the course of the last decade, bouncing around from job to job, city to city.
As we read in this incredible story published during Spring Training by David O'Brien of the AJC, Gattis did everything from signing and failing to arrive at Texas A&M on a baseball scholarship, to checking into drug rehab, to working as a ski lift operator.
He was drafted in 2010 by Atlanta and spent the entire 2011 season with the Rome Braves, smashing 22 homers and hitting .322 in the process. Even with this success, no one really gave him a second look. He was 3-5 years older than just about everyone else he was competing against on a nightly basis, and while he served as the catcher in Rome, most figured his body projected him to be a first baseman or designated hitter down the road. Not exactly things you look for when evaluating a prospect.
Imagine an 8-year-old playing Little League with a bunch of kids enrolling for kindergarten.
Here is the issue scouts run into when trying to decipher Gattis' prognosis going forward: he isn't a normal prospect. He isn't even close to resembling a normal prospect, nor will he likely ever.
Gattis spent all of about three weeks in High-A Lynchburg before being promoted to Double-A Mississippi. In 21 games at Lynchburg, he hit .385/.468/.821 with nine homers and a league-best 29 RBI. Some figured he would cool off following his jump to Mississippi -- a jump that is considered the most difficult a player makes in the Minor Leagues -- but that has been far from the case; in only nine games, Gattis already has four homers, 10 RBI, and posted an OPS of 1.127, which is only slightly lower than the one he produced at Lynchburg.
Given the amount of depth surrounding the catcher's position in Atlanta, Gattis began preparing for a transition to left field a couple of weeks ago. While he won't confuse anyone for a gold glover in the outfield, he's learning the position quickly and may be good enough to be serviceable for a few seasons.
Gattis can hit, and his first 30 games of the 2012 season have been remarkable.
So what could be his future with the Atlanta Braves?
First of all, it's silly to start penciling this guy in as a starter in the lineup for next year. Yes, he's been great thus far, but you have to remember that he's a man among boys right now in the Minors. Even with his promotion to Mississippi, Gattis is 2-3 years older than most of his competition. He's three years older than Jason Heyward, a little more than 24 months younger than Brian McCann. This is Mac's seventh year in Atlanta.
This is not to say that the slugging catcher/left fielder/DH/whatever doesn't have a future in Major League Baseball.
Take a look at a guy like Brandon Beachy; he went undrafted after pitching well at a very small college in Indiana, and is now the best pitcher on the Braves' starting rotation and quickly becoming one of the better righties in the entire league. Tommy Hanson wasn't drafted until the 22nd round. The same went for John Smoltz.
But as far as penciling him for left field goes next season? Pump the brakes a little bit.
There is still plenty of season left for Gattis. It would be unfathomable for him to reach Atlanta this season, but it could potentially happen should he continue to rake the way he has through 30 games. Conventional thought (and logic, really) should tell us this won't happen, but again, Gattis isn't your typical ball player. His story is unmatched by anyone in the game right now, and you can't help but root for the guy to be successful.
Will he be? You never know. Plenty of guys have had hot starts before just to fizzle out over the course of a long, mentally draining season. It could certainly happen this time around. We've all seen Gattis hit at the lowest of levels in professional baseball, seldom doing anything wrong or unproductive. Now it's just a matter of continuing his success against the toughest competition in the world, defying the odds and proving every scout in the game wrong.
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