Braves trust Gattis' ability behind plate, in left field
ATLANTA -- For the first time in eight years, the Braves are faced with the possibility of uncertainty behind the plate, as catcher Brian McCann enters free agency with the possibility of leaving the franchise that drafted him in 2002.
If McCann chooses to go elsewhere, as many expect, Evan Gattis figures to see significantly more time at catcher than the 42 appearances he made in his breakout rookie season. But with Gattis still feeling out his defensive responsibilities at the Major League level -- both at his natural position behind the plate and in left field, where the Braves used him when McCann was healthy -- the move is not that simple.
Manager Fredi Gonzalez pointed out that veteran backstop Gerald Laird has one more year left on his contract and, should McCann leave, will likely split the everyday duties with Gattis, while top catching prospect Christian Bethancourt will get the chance to earn a roster spot after spending most of September up with the Major League club.
"Maybe not knowing what's going on, but you give Bethancourt a little chance and bring him along a little bit," Gonzalez said. "Go with Gattis and Laird, and throw Bethancourt a bone every once in a while, put Gattis out in left field because we know that he can do it."
Throughout their 2013 campaign and brief stay in the playoffs, the Braves expressed their willingness to live with Gattis' defense behind the plate and in the outfield for the chance to bolster the offense by giving him three to four plate appearances per game. He finished his first Major League season with a .243 average, 21 home runs and 65 RBIs in 105 games, nearly half of which he spent in left field.
"I don't even know how many games he ended up catching, but he does a good job," Gonzalez said. "Obviously, his bat is what's going to carry him. Shoot, I feel pretty good about him playing left field. He got better and better, or maybe we just got more comfortable watching him. He wasn't a train wreck. I could mention five or six [former players] off the top of your head that you cringe every time the ball went out there."
Gonzalez also said he planned to reach out to the heavy-hitting 27-year-old later in the offseason about putting in extra work on defense if McCann's departure puts more responsibility on Gattis heading into Spring Training.
"He's one of those guys that needs plans," Gonzalez said. "Some guys, they can figure it out, but with Gattis, I would make a phone call and say, 'We're thinking about you playing more left field than catching,' or, 'We want you to catch.' And I think it's good for him to do that. We'll go at it that way."