Atlanta Braves Blog

The Atlanta Braves blog by David O'Brien, baseball writer for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Gattis to left field not being discussed yet

 Evan Gattis is in the midst of a power-laden 15-game hitting streak going in which the Braves catcher has racked up 25 hits, seven homers, 18 RBIs, a .470 OBP and an .817 slugging percentage. In his past 46 games going back to April 12, El Oso Blanco has hit .311 with 14 homers, 34 RBIs, a .367 OBP and a .621 slugging percentage.

In 180 at-bats as a catcher this season, Gattis has hit .300 with 15 homers – he leads major league catchers in that category -- 34 RBIs, a .349 OBP and a .594 slugging percentage. His only other five at-bats came as a pinch-hitter (1-for-5).

Oh, and Braves pitchers have a 3.28 ERA in 417 innings with Gattis catching, compared t

o a 3.48 ERA in 176 innings with Gerald Laird catching and a 3.50 ERA in 18 innings with Ryan Doumit behind the dish.

Clearly, it’s time for those who questioned the viability of Gattis as a major league hitter to admit they were dead wrong (though I doubt they will just yet). And it’s also becoming clear that Gattis can be a solid, if not exceptional, defensive catcher. Not going to win any Gold Gloves back there, but not the liability that some expected he’d be.

And given his level of experience – he only caught in 42 games (38 starts) as a rookie and 49 games (46 starts) this season – and the fact that pitchers and his manager saying he’s improved steadily in terms of his defensive skills and calling games, it’s reasonable to assume he can be at least a middle-of-the-pack sort of catcher defensively for years to come, as long as his surgically repaired knee and 250-pound body hold up (so far, he’s not any significant problems in that regard).

So what you have is a at least a serviceable defensive catcher who is now the best power-hitting catcher in baseball.

And if you moved Evan Gattis to left field, you’d have a guy who would be one of the worst defensive outfielders in baseball, with real good but not exceptional offensive numbers for that position.

And that’s one reason that, from what I’m told by more than one person in the organization, the Braves aren’t talking about moving Gattis to left field this season and moving Justin Upton to right field and Jason Heyward to center and facilitate the benching of underperforming B.J. Upton, as laid out in a published report that said it’s something the Braves have discussed.

In that scenario, defensively gifted catching prospect Christian Bethancourt, who finally started to hit in the second half of the 2013 season in Double-A and has hit .312 in his past 37 games in Triple-A, would be brought up the majors and ostensibly become the primary catcher with backup from Gerald Laird.

Let me put it this way, if it’s something that’s been discussed, then it’s within a very small circle of folks and has not been shared with other people that one would certainly expect to be involved in such discussions. And I’ll leave it at that.

Besides the fact that Gattis was a bad defensive outfielder by major league standards when he played 48 games in left field as a rookie in 2013, and the fact that he’s not done any work in the outfield this year because he was told he’d be exclusively catching unless there’s an emergency or the Braves need him for a game or two in the outfield or first base to give someone a rest, there’s one other big reason why the move doesn’t make much sense: B.J. Upton.

Or, to be more specific, B.J. Upton’s contract.

He’s got just over 3 ½ seasons left  on a five-year, $75.25 million contract that has steadily increasing annual salaries. The Braves, midway through the second year of the largest free-agent contract in franchise history, are not ready to bench the guy when he’s healthy. Too early for that.

Maybe in the stretch drive of the playoff race, if we get to  August and the Braves are desperate and feel like they have no other choice, they’d bench B.J. if he’s still playing like he has been (again) lately. But not in June. Not before the All-Star break. Not when the Braves are still in first place.

Oh, and not when B.J.’s brother is a key part of the lineup and is signed through 2015.

Those of you who think Dan Uggla has been a distraction in the clubhouse – and he hasn’t been – might want to consider how, well, awkward it might be if the Braves bench the team’s current highest-paid player when he’s got 3 ½ years left on his contract and a brother playing beside him in the outfield.

Anyway, Bethancourt, 22, is hitting .274 overall with 11 doubles, two homers and a .301 OBP and .371 slugging percentage in his first season in Triple-A. It’s not as if the Braves have to worry about him getting stale there or him losing any potential trade allure because he’s been in the minors so long. He’s one of the youngest players in that league.

But getting back to Gattis. As a catcher, he’s an elite-level power hitter. He’s on pace for about 110 starts, and the Braves can catch him more if they need to or want to and believe he can hold up to the grind of squatting and wearing the gear in the Atlanta heat all summer.

By September, when they might want him to do that, it should be cooling off a bit here and the cities the Braves visit.

I’m not saying the Braves won’t eventually considering benching B.J. Upton, who has struggled offensively for most of the season and played some sloppy defense as well.

Upton has hit .208 (23-for-11) in his past 28 games with three homers, 12 walks, 33 strikeouts, a .282 OBP and four errors, including costly errors Friday and Saturday. For the season he's at .210 with a .284 OBP, .634 OPS, six homers and 11 stolen bases. Bad. Real bad. Again.

If he keeps playing like this through midseason, to me it seems like they almost have to give Jordan Schafer a shot in center, at least on a part-time basis.

But benching the guy with 3 ½ years left on his five-year, $75.25 million contract, moving the best power-hitting catcher in baseball to the outfield where he’s uncomfortable and bad defensively, and calling up a 22-year-old (Bethancourt) who has two homers and a .672 OPS in Triple-A to be your primary catcher? In June? That seems a bit extreme.

• Here is some video I took today of first-round draft pick Braxton Davidson taking batting practice with the Braves today after signing his contract.

And here is video of Terry Pendleton talking about the death of his friend and playing contemporary, the great  Tony Gwynn.

• We'll close with this one from a great and underrated singer-songwriter, Leon Durham.

“DRIFTING WOOD” by Lincoln Durham

One path leads to destruction I got two idle hands that'll get me there

Three stand before me to enlighten I'd reach for the shores if I dared 

Let the wind act as a savior

Let it guide like a savior should

May the river have mercy have mercy on the drifting wood  

I may be hanging from a tree come next morning

Gone to from whence I came

My world is burning down to ashes

By match or by chance it's all the same 

 Let the wind act as a savior

Let it guide like a savior should

May the river have mercy

have mercy on the drifting wood  

These waters are deep and they are unheeding

I could swim upstream or just go along for the ride

The latter of which has this clear warning

That's to doom myself to a passive suicide 

Let the wind act as a savior

Let it guide like a savior should

May the river have mercy

have mercy on the drifting wood  



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About the Author

David O'Brien has covered the Atlanta Braves for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution since 2002.