If you’re reading this, you’ve probably heard the story of Evan Gattis, the Braves’ minor leaguer who took some time off from baseball to go on a Kerouacian journey to find himself. He wasn’t drafted until 2010, at age 23. But he’s destroyed rookie ball, A-ball, High-A and Double-A pitching so far in his pro career. At 25, he’s reached Double-A and, if all goes well, he could be in the majors sometime this season or early next season.
Gattis has received a lot of press, much of it deserved, considering his story. But is he actually a prospect? Could he play well enough in the big leagues to be an everyday player? How likely is he to add much value to a major league roster?
We should be skeptical of anyone who has barely reached Double-A at age 25. He’s hitting well but he’s hitting well against weaker competition than what most 25-year-old pros face. It is true that he missed some development time at an age when amateur players are facing college competition and pro players are going up against players in the low minors. So he is behind. But that could be as big a strike against him as it is for him. The Braves certainly are taking it slow with a player who hasn’t played much baseball over the past 4-5 years but also that time away from baseball is development time lost. And that lost development time may not show up at the lower levels, against players in their early 20′s who are not as physically mature as Gattis.
Athletes are physically mature, especially nowadays. But Gattis is a big dude, even for a pro athlete. He’s bigger than most 25-year-olds. So the differences in physical maturity between Gattis and his competition, minor leaguers in their early 20′s, is even more drastic than your typical 25-year-old.
It is true that these players in their early 20′s have more experience than Gattis. But this goes back to the point about that lost time. It will always be the case that Gattis will have less experience than other pro players, regardless of level. Now, eventually that may not matter but there is a good chance it will always put him behind other players.
If we look at where his offensive value is coming from in the minors, it appears to be coming from his ability to hit the ball with authority and with power. His career slugging percentage is .560 and his career batting average is .317. He’s walked 45 times in 179 games and has a .380 OBP, in spite of a .317 average and .560 slugging; not bad but not overly impressive signs of a disciplined hitter. Hitting the ball with authority should come relatively easy for a 25-year-old playing against players in their early 20′s. Certainly it’s not a bad sign that he’s doing it but you would like to see some more signs of solid plate discipline considering the Braves are playing him in leftfield.
That brings us to another concern, which is his defensive value. Gattis played mostly catcher in his first two seasons of pro ball. He also played a few games at firstbase. This season the Braves decided to play him some in leftfield. It’s a good sign that the Braves want him to get experience at other positions besides catcher and that they feel he can do a serviceable job there. After all, the Braves have Brian McCann in the majors and a great defensive catching prospect in Christian Bethancourt, so it’s to Gattis’s advantage that he finds a new position.
But given that Gattis is a big catcher, is already 25, and the Braves didn’t play him anywhere but first or catcher his first two pro seasons, he not likely to be much better than a replacement-level leftfielder, if that. If the Braves thought he was a good defensive outfielder, they probably would have moved him at some point in his first two seasons or they would be playing him some in rightfield and perhaps centerfield.
Gattis looks like a bench bat, sort of a Ryan Doumit type, who can catch and play some corner-outfield but isn’t likely to provide enough offensive or defensive value to play in the corner-outfield every day. If he’s is forced into an everyday role in leftfield, I don’t think it will be a disaster. I just don’t see him providing a lot of value there. Players need to hit a ton to provide offensive value in leftfield. And it’s unlikely that he’s a valuable defender there. It seems he has enough power to provide occasional pop and hit for a solid batting average in the majors but I don’t know if he’ll draw enough walks against major league pitching to be a legit offensive threat as a leftfielder. That’s why I say his likely value is that of a bench bat who can play some left and catch. If Gattis can do this, even if he’s the 23rd or 24th man on the roster, so to speak, it will be a great story and the Braves will extract plenty of value from a guy who wasn’t really on anyone’s radar before this season.