COMMENTARY | The first half of the season has been fun to watch for Atlanta Braves fans, and a large part of that is due to the improbable story of Evan Gattis.
The 26-year-old rookie leads the Braves in OPS, is second on the team in home runs and runs batted in, and is an unbelievable 6-for-8 with four home runs as a pinch-hitter. Which is why he should return to AAA.
Before you scroll down to the comments section and start punching holes in your keyboard in anger, just bear with me for a second.
Gattis just started a 15-day stint on the disabled list with a strained oblique. Before that, he only had two hits in the month of June (both home runs, of course). When Brian McCann returned from the DL, Gattis saw his playing time cut drastically. For a while, Fredi Gonzalez was able to hide this by using him as a designated hitter in American League parks, playing him in left to spell outfielders, and essentially relegating Gerald Laird to third-catcher status. But as Gattis has started to struggle, he has seen fewer and fewer opportunities.
Soon, the Braves will have to make a decision about what they want to do at catcher, not only this season but also in the future.
Brian McCann has been a perennial All-Star for Atlanta, playing solid defense while ranking as one of the best hitting catchers in the majors. But after a sub-par 2012 season and offseason shoulder surgery, McCann is playing the final year of his contract under a cloud of uncertainty. If he struggles over the remainder of the 2013 season, it is very possible the Braves will be unwilling to pay him the amount of money he has earned through his good work in Atlanta, because of his more recent struggles and questions about his health. If, on the other hand, McCann finishes 2013 hitting to his potential, the Braves may not be able to afford a new contract for him.
With the very real possibility that Brian McCann will not be an Atlanta Brave next year, the team must look to the future and look for solutions going forward. Gerald Laird is under contract for the 2014 season, and while the Braves seemed comfortable having him start the season behind the plate while McCann recovered, it is unlikely that they will be willing to play an entire season with Laird as a starter.
Christian Bethancourt has been a top 10 prospect for Atlanta, is only in his age 21 season, and is widely regarded as one of the best defensive catchers anywhere in the minor leagues. He has long been considered the heir-apparent to McCann, but his bat has been lagging and has kept him from playing above AA ball. So far this season he is hitting .244, almost exactly the same average for which he hit at Mississippi last year in 71 games. Furthermore, Bethancourt is not supplementing that low batting average with power. Through over 400 at-bats in AA, he has only four home runs and 13 doubles.
With all of these question marks, the most promising option for the Braves behind the plate in 2014 and beyond is Evan Gattis. In addition to the huge power numbers he has put up, Gattis has played better than expected defense, making only one error and throwing out one-third of all would-be base stealers. The goal should now be to maximize Gattis' potential, a goal that cannot be achieved by having him start every two or three days with a couple of pinch-hits in between. By sending Evan back to AAA, he will be able to start behind the plate every day, developing his catching ability while not having his bat atrophy on the bench.
It has been thrilling to watch the legend of El Oso Blanco grow over the first half of the season. If Gattis had not started the season in the big leagues, the Braves would more than likely not be in the great position they are now. But as we look to the future, not just the rest of this season but 2014 and beyond, a fully developed Evan Gattis will help smooth the transition to a post-McCann world. The Braves owe it to themselves and to Gattis to give him that chance.
Joe Thomas was raised and lives within shouting distance of Turner Field, home of the Atlanta Braves. He is the sports editor for The Sting, the student newspaper of Southern Polytechnic State University.
- Sports & Recreation
- Evan Gattis
- Atlanta Braves
- Brian McCann
- Gerald Laird