Evan Gattis

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Atlanta Braves catcher Evan Gattis.jpg

James Evan Gattis

(El Oso Blanco)

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Biographical Information[edit]

Evan Gattis is a catcher who returned to baseball after a long break from the game.

Gattis was a star player in high school in the Dallas, TX area and received a scholarship to attend Texas A&M University. However, he had serious personal issues at the time; he was terrified of being a failure, smoked a lot of drugs and was battling depression. As a result, he walked away from the scholarship offer while not having any back-up plan. His mother enlisted him in a drug rehabilitation program, and he then enrolled in a junior college in Oklahoma, but his heart wasn't in it. He hurt his knee, was redshirted, and then left school in the middle of the following year.

He then began a period of wandering, moving from place to place in the western United States, consulting various gurus while seeking answers to questions about the meaning of his life. He worked odd job, including as a janitor and as a golf course attendant. He would pick up his possessions and leave friends and relatives at the drop of a hat to move elsewhere. A particularly difficult episode occurred in 2007, when he found himslef in a mental hospital: "I couldn't sleep for an entire week, and I knew something was wrong with me. So I got admitted. I was so depressed, all I could think about was killing myself." He was diagnosed with chronic depression, and medication, therapy and time helped him to overcome the condition. Eventually, he realized that baseball was what he was meant to do. As he puts it: "Some people find out that stuff when they're 50. Then they say, '... I forgot to live.' So at least I got that out of me when I was young. People say in meditation groups, 'You can find it out when you're 25 or you can find it out later in life.'"

Gattis still had college eligibility remaining and in 2010 enrolled at the University of Texas of the Permian Basin in Odessa, TX, where his step-brother, Drew Kendrick, was a pitcher. He hit .400 in his first season and was selected by the Atlanta Braves in the 23rd round of the 2010 amateur draft. Already 23, he did not wait to complete his degree and was signed immediately by scout Gerald Turner for $1,000.

Evan began his professional career with the Danville Braves of the Appalachian League in 2010, where he hit .288 in 60 games as a catcher. In 2011, he played 88 games with the Rome Braves in the South Atlantic League, 52 as a catcher and 7 at first base. He hit .322 with 24 doubles, 22 homers and 71 RBIs, drawing a lot of attention from the organization's top brass. While he was old for the league, his unusual career path meant that he had more potential than a player who would have put up the same statistics without such a huge hole in his resumé. While his 2012 season was cut short by an injury, he continued to progress, reaching AA for 49 games with the Mississippi Braves of the Southern League, where he hit .258. Before that, he had hit .385 in 21 games for the Lynchburg Hillcats of the Carolina League, and gone 6 for 12 in a rehabilitation assignment with the GCL Braves. Between the three stops, he was a combined .305 in 74 games, with 20 doubles, 18 homers and 67 RBI. He then did very well in the Venezuelan League, where he earned the nickname "El Oso Blanco" (the white bear) from appreciative fans.

The Braves rewarded him for his production by inviting him to major league spring training as a non-roster player in 2013, with the plan of giving him more playing time in left field, which would make him a valuable back-up in combination with his ability to catch. Due to an early-season injury to regular catcher Brian McCann, he made the team's opening day roster. He was overwhelmed with emotion and wept when manager Fredi Gonzalez told him he had made the team, but he played so well in the early going that he became the starter. He played his first game on April 3rd against the Philadelphia Phillies, going 1 for 4. His first major league hit was a solo homer against Roy Halladay in the 4th inning of that day's 8-2 win. He immediately displayed excellent power, hitting 6 homers over his first 61 at-bats in the bigs and was immediately embraced by fans, who made his jersey one of the hottest-selling items in Atlanta. He was named the National League Rookie of the Month for April, finishing the month with 6 homers, 16 RBI, a .566 slugging percentage and 43 total bases in 21 games. Even after McCann returned to action in early May, Gattis continued to make headlines. On May 22nd, he hit his first career grand slam in giving the Braves an 8-3 win over the Minnesota Twins that completed a three-game sweep and a six-game winning streak. He was again the NL's Rookie of the Month in May, finishing the month with 6 homers and 16 RBI while batting .303. His season was interrupted on June 18th, when he was placed on the disabled list with a strained right oblique muscle. he was batting .252 with 14 homers and 37 RBI at the time, the latter two figures placing him second on the Braves behind Justin Upton. On September 8th, he crushed the longest home run in the major leagues in 2013, blasting a pitch from Cole Hamels of the Phillies 498 feet beyond the bleachers and into the concession area in straightaway center field at Citizens Bank Park, an area no hitter had yet reached. He ended the season at .243 but with 21 homers and 65 RBIs in only 354 at-bats. In the NLDS, he started in left field against the Los Angeles Dodgers, struggling defensively but also going 5 for 14 (.357) in four games. After the season he was named a member of the 2013 Topps All-Star Rookie Team.

After Brian McCann left as a free agent during the offseason, Gattis was installed as the Braves' starting catcher in 2014. He continued to show excellent power, and in June, had a twenty-game hitting streak as well, the first such streak by a major league catcher since Jason Kendall in 2004. He played 108 games, including 89 starts at catcher, and hit .263 with 22 homers and 52 RBI, good for an OPS+ of 125. However, the Braves played poorly during the second half of the season and surprisingly missed the postseason, leading to some significant changes to the team. With a young Christian Bethancourt identified as the team's catcher of the future, and veteran A.J. Pierzynski signed off the free agent marker to be his back-up, it was not clear what Evan's role would be with the team. On January 14th, media sources reported that he had been traded to the Houston Astros in return for prospects, something which was confirmed the next day.

Gattis was one of the pillars of the young Astros team that surprised the baseball world by reaching the postseason in 2015. He played 153 games, hitting .246 with 20 doubles, 11 triples and 27 homers, scored 66 runs and drove in 88. he was the team's primary DH, playing 136 games at the position in addition to 11 starts in left him. The Astros did not ask him to do any catching, being well stocked at the position and not wanting to distract Evan from his primary task - hitting. His nice production came in spite of starting the year stone cold: he began by going hitless in his first 5 games, a total of 20 at-bats during which he struck out 12 times, including back-to-back four-strikeout games on April 8-9. He was hitting only .164 with two homers at the end of April before his bat got hot. In the postseason, he went 0 for 4 in the Wild Card Game, but went 4 for 19 with a homer as the Astros were eliminated in five games by the Kansas City Royals in the ALDS. There was some bad news the following winter, as Gattis began to feel discomfort in the groin area, and an MRI revealed a sports hernia. He had to undergo surgery, setting him back by four to six weeks. He had been working out quite a lot that off-season, looking to shed some weight in order to be able to play the field more regularly in 2016. That year, he became one of only a handful of players to hit 10 more triples one year (he had 11 in 2015), only to manage zero the next year, while playing at least 100 games both years.

In 2017, he hit .263 in 84 games, with 12 homers and 44 RBIs. His playing time went down as the Astros had Brian McCann was the starting catcher and veteran Carlos Beltran saw a lot of time at DH. He was a regular in the postseason, however, starting most games at DH and going a combined 8 for 30 with a homer, 5 runs and 3 RBIs. The Astros won the first title in their history that season, defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers in 7 games in the 2017 World Series. In 2018, with Beltran retired and young Max Stassi backing up McCann behind the plate, he was basically a full-time DH. On June 12-13, he had the two best games of his career back-to-back. Facing the Oakland Athletics, he had 5 RBIs in each of the two games, and hit 3 homers and a double as Houston won both contests, 6-3 and 13-5.

Notable Achievements[edit]

Further Reading[edit]

  • Bob Nightengale: "Braves' rookie 'a cult hero' with incredible road to the majors", USA Today, April 29, 2013. [1]
  • Jorge L. Ortiz: "Astros catchers Brian McCann, Evan Gattis form a deadly combination", USA Today Sports, June 22, 2017. [2]

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