I’m on a long-running group text thread with about 12 of my friends, and one schtick I’ve been on for the past two summers is to post “EVAN GATTIS” in all caps whenever I’m watching or listening to a Braves game and El Oso puts one in the seats. It started because I was bragging about finding waiver-wire fantasy gold early in 2013, and it continued because Evan Gattis is fun as hell to root for.
It’s nice to have players who are fun to root for, and Gattis leads the returning Braves in that quality, so naturally he’s next up on the trading block. I don’t anticipate we’ll be writing him up in this space next winter, because the Braves are moving Gattis from catcher to left field this offseason. As a catcher, he’s basically a league average defender; as a left fielder, he’s a statue. But the point of Gattis in left field isn’t to make the 2015 Braves an optimized construction, it’s to get his bat in the lineup as they showcase him for AL teams who could use a DH.
Though he doesn’t have a lot of major league miles on him due to his early-twenties hiatus from baseball, Gattis still has some wear and tear, and he might not be long for catching. He spent almost a month between late June and late July last year on the DL with a bulging thoracic disk in his back, and he was never quite right after that. Pre-DL, El Oso hit 16 home runs at a .900 OPS; post-DL, six homers at a .672 OPS. He was mostly shut down in September after 28 plate appearances with a .148/.178/.259 slash line, only coming back to play in the final series of the year. Back injuries are no fun, and catching is probably not the way to manage them, so I get it.
We’ve seen the Gattis-in-left-field routine before, and it ended in tragicomedy at Chavez Ravine in the 2013 NLDS. But his defensive mobility issues aside, it’s a more or less ideal spot to try to keep him healthy and hope he regains his first-half power stroke. Plus the backup options at this point are Jose Constanza and all the career journeymen the Braves signed offseason, so why not?
His offensive skillset is that of the prototypical Frank Wren masher; he doesn’t really get on base, but when he does, he tends to clear them. His career line is .263/.317/.493, forged over two seasons where he hit basically that line, give or take. He swings hard, and often does run into them. Watching him hit is fun, the way watching monster trucks crush cars and occasionally flip themselves out of commission is fun.
That monster truck ethos has pretty much come to an end in Atlanta, though, so I anticipate Gattis will be moved if and when he showcases his bat and his health. (Probably for a B+ pitching prospect rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, because you can never have enough of those.) Most of the projection systems have El Oso hitting something approximating his career line or a little worse; in an era where random joes can get outs but a .800 OPS is a rarity, I hope the Braves and their trading partners remain cognizant of his value.
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