The intimidating glare of Evan Gattis - Matthew Stockman, Getty Images
Word from Atlanta Braves spring training camp is that manager Fredi Gonzalez is impressed so far with the performance of catcher/outfield/slugging prospect Evan Gattis and is considering ways to get him on the roster. Gattis is certainly an interesting prospect who generates a wide range of opinions from experts.
Gattis is a great story, so we'll begin the narrative with the comment I wrote for him in 2012:
Gattis was a 23rd round pick in 2010 from the University of Texas-Permian Basin, which sounds like some sort of archeological dig. He was well regarded in high school and was a high-profile Texas A&M recruit, but his life got off-track due to problems with pot, anger management, and a knee injury. After a three-year layoff, he returned to baseball in 2010 and got himself drafted. Gattis destroyed South Atlantic League pitching last year with a +36 percent OPS; however, he was very old for the level at age 24. He's not a great defensive catcher, throwing out just 23% of runners and posting high error and passed ball rates. He's a good human interest story and has genuine power, but we need to see if he can replicate this kind of hitting at higher levels before ranking him higher than a Grade C.
A wrist injury limited him to 74 games in 2012, but he hit 18 homers in those 74 games including a .258/343/.522 line in Double-A. Here's what I wrote for 2013:
I'm impressed with what Evan Gattis has done. His amateur career bogged down in a morass of personal problems, drug use, and injuries, but he pulled himself together and got drafted at age 23 in the 23rd round in 2010. He's shown excellent power in pro ball, bringing his hitting skills forward to Double-A last year despite missing much of the season with a wrist injury. He shows power to all fields and reasonable plate discipline while keeping his strikeout rates fairly low, usually a good combination for success. Although he won't steal many (any) bases, he's fairly mobile for his size and has a strong throwing arm. His defense behind the plate has rough edges and he saw considerable playing time in the outfield last year. His lack of speed is a handicap, but the versatility only helps his chances. Although Gattis is old for a prospect at age 26, I like him and project that he'll be a useful role player. Grade C+.
Some evaluators really don't like Gattis, focusing on his age (he turns 27 in August) and defensive limitations. I understand that position, but there are things to like about Gattis that we should not overlook.
His power is real, and while he's not going to hit for a high batting average, he does have an idea about the strike zone and (so far anyway) has kept his whiffs under control. Those are good signs, especially after the long layoff from playing in his early 20s. Most scouting reports seem optimistic that his power will carry forward, with concerns centering on what his batting average and OBP will look like. Even if he hits .240, though, he's got enough thunder in the bat to be useful.
His glove isn't as bad as you might think given his size (6-4, 230) and lack of experience, and he did throw out 39% of runners last year, but his receiving otherwise leaves much to be desired and nobody is going to let him catch regularly. His lack of speed is a hindrance in the outfield, but he's not a butcher and any bit of versatility helps his chances.
I don't see how the Braves will get him into the lineup regularly without injuries to other players, but Gattis is a good guy to have around, destroying Triple-A pitching (which I expect he'll readily do) and waiting for a shot. With the right team, he could play some games in the outfield and DH, do some emergency catching occasionally, and rack up 300 at-bats while producing solid power numbers. He's now in the age 26/27 window where many players take a leap forward.