Back in January, 2015 the Houston Astros unprecedented rebuild was moving past the lowest points and gearing up to bear fruit.
In the middle of January, in-between the Winter Meetings and the start of Spring Training, general manager Jeff Luhnow made a trade, acquiring the big bat of Evan Gattis.
A bit bat indeed, Gattis was Kyle Schwarber —without the sky-high potential— before the Chicago Cub was even around.
From Dallas, Texas, Gattis attended the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa, which is geographically located on the way from his hometown to his new home in Houston.
Drafted without much fanfare in 2010’s 23rd round, the shaggy bush’d Gattis eventually started to make some big noise in the Braves system. A lumbering 6 foot 4, 270 pounds today, he nevertheless remained a catcher, and a good one. Despite an unpredictable profile, you had to take notice of his hitting numbers.
By 2013, he was in the majors and hit 21 home runs with 65 RBI in 105 games for Atlanta. He split time between left field and catcher, blocked behind the plate, ironically, by Brian McCann.
Already resembling a colonist of old, Gattis became a folk hero with a brilliant 2013 postseason performance. Though the Braves fell to the Dodgers in the NLDS, the 26-year old rookie went 5-for-14 in four games.
In his sophomore season, Gattis hit 22 home runs but did strike out 97 times in 108 games. Replacing McCann as the primary catcher after his future Astro teammate signed with the Yankees, Gattis was limited to just 93 starts behind the plate with back troubles.
The catching experiment was ditched entirely in 2015 when Gattis was traded to an American League team and eligible to DH.
That team was the Astros, and the package for the now 28-year old Gattis was viewed as pricey and unpopular with Astros fans.
To acquire Gattis, the all but finished rebuilding club traded three prospects. Off to Georgia were pitchers Mike Foltynewicz and Andrew Thurman as well as corner infielder Rio Ruiz for Gattis and pitcher James Hoyt.
What happened to them?
Thurman, a 2013 second round pick, never advanced past Double-A and the Braves released him in August 2016. He caught on with the Dodgers but is currently a free agent.
Hoyt has been serviceable in 71.1 relief innings for Houston, a success in his modest contributions.
Foltynewicz, mercifully known as “Folty” (though I can spell it diligently thanks to my Astros blogging days of 2013) and Ruiz have advanced to the big leagues for Atlanta. Ruiz, still just 23, has never tapped into his power potential at the hot corner and outside of a solid 2016 for Triple-A Gwinnett, albeit with just 10 home runs, his performance and stock have tumbled since the trade.
Folty became a prized prospect in a then-challenged Braves system that now is obviously packed with top prospect pitchers. The 26-year old righty was selected 19th overall in 2010 and by the time of the trade, Atlanta was ready to deploy him in their rotation.
He made 16 appearances in his first taste of the majors in 2014 with his former club. In 2015, he started 15 games for the Braves but struggled to a 5.71 ERA and 1.63 WHIP.
2016 was much better, with a 4.31 ERA in 22 starts and improved 1.30 WHIP. He struck out 111 batters in 123.1 innings but frequently worked around baserunners, a problem that has yet to be resolved.
Without much competition, he was given another full-time crack in 2017. The results were lukewarm and discouraging. He allowed 9.9 hits per nine innings and 3.4 walks, constantly fighting high-leverage batting counts.
On the bright side, he will be 26 all year and it is another year to try and make things right. But the next wave of arms in Atlanta approaches. Fortunately for him, high draft picks like Joey Wentz, Ian Anderson and Kyle Wright still need time in the minor leagues.
The fifth and most important player of the deal was and is, of course, Gattis. A steep price has not come back to bite Houston in the trade (unlike the Carlos Gomez trade that cost them Domingo Santana and Josh Hader), though Gattis has never become the titan of a designated hitter they envisioned.
Prior to 2016, he had surgery to repair an ailing sports hernia. Once recovered, he returned to part-time catching duties, splitting time with his former Braves teammate Brian McCann, who had been acquired in a trade with the Yankees.
He caught 55 games in 2016, DH’ing in 71 and a year after clubbing 27 home runs, he eclipsed 30 with 32. In 2015, he famously registered 11 triples, something only Minute Maid Park could provide.
His role further diminished in 2017, mostly because the parts around him in Houston had become truly exemplary. On top of that, he battled concussion issues, once again making too-well of friends with the disabled list.
In a career-low 84 games, he did managed to tie his best career batting average at .263, but was not a huge part in the Astros World Series run.
Despite his lessening impact on the field, Gattis’ jubilant personality has helped the Houston clubhouse become one of the tightest in the league. Obviously championships help, too. He is in his last year of team control and will hit unrestricted free agency next summer.
Both Gattis and Foltynewicz have had strong starts to the 2018 season but unless Folty becomes a rotation mainstay in years to come and Ruiz becomes an impact regular, the Astros won this trade.
Or did they? Comment below and Happy Baseball New Year everyone.