Gattis and Schafer could both be on Atlanta’s Opening Day roster
Before the first Grapefruit League opener, I predicted Jordan Schafer would win the final available spot for a position player on the Braves Opening Day roster. Now, I am starting to think there might be room for both Schafer and Evan Gattis.
Over the course of the two weeks that have followed, you have continued to read many great things about Gattis. Really the only thing you have heard about Gattis is that he is a modern science marvel created from the DNA of Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth and Ted Williams. Stay tuned. We’re still looking for confirmation.
When the exhibition season started, the belief was that the final roster spot for a position player would go to a third catcher (Gattis) or a fifth outfielder, either Schafer or Jose Constanza, who still has not been able to exit the Dominican Republic because of visa issues.
Now that Gattis has had a chance to lessen concerns about his defense while being behind the plate a few times over the past couple of weeks, there seems to be a possibility that he will begin the season as the primary backup to veteran catcher Gerald Laird. If this proves to be true, the Braves must determine would it be better to still carry a third catcher (Matt Pagnozzi) or a fifth outfielder, which would likely be Schafer?
Given that Pagnozzi would serve as nothing more than insurance, I think the nod would go to Schafer, who could at least provide some value with his speed and glove.
As he makes progress recovering from right shoulder surgery, Brian McCann has grown more confident that he could begin his duties as Atlanta’s starting catcher during the third week of April. If we use, the April 16 game against the Royals as a projected return date for McCann, the Braves would play 12 games before he would be available to be in their lineup.
Again simply using this date as a projected return, the Braves could approach this stretch with the intention of having Laird and Gattis share the position. This option has become more likely as the Braves have become more enamored with Gattis’ offensive potential and less concerned about his defensive ability behind the plate.
If this option is utilized through say the first 12 games, Laird could be in the starting lineup seven times and Gattis in the other five games played during this stretch. This of course is all hypothetical and simply included to provide some reasoning behind carrying Gattis as one of two catchers on the roster.
Obviously, Gattis’ offensive potential is the driving force behind the fact that he has positioned himself to make the leap to the Major League level at the start of the regular season. Contrary to what you might envision if you have only read about his size (6-foot-4, 240 pounds) or impressive batting practice exploits, he is not a swing-and-miss power threat.
In 301 combined plate appearances with Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi last year, Gattis has hit .296 with 18 home runs, 30 walks and 41 strikeouts. While the sound of his bat his loud, his short powerful swing consistently produces line drives that occasionally travel a long way.
So if Gattis is indeed on Atlanta’s roster, would this create the need to carry a third catcher? In other words, when he is not in the lineup would his availability as a pinch hitter be negatively influenced by the fact that he would be the only available catcher on the bench? Since it bothered so many of you over the past couple of years, we’ll refer to this as the David Ross Dilemma.
When McCann returns, the question will be whether it would be better to carry Gattis or a fifth outfielder? If Gattis continues to show his potential at the plate and at provides confidence he could play the outfield or first base when necessary, this would not be a tough decision.
It would likely mean Schafer would be claimed off waivers by the Mets or another outfield-starved team. As long as Constanza eventually gets out of the D.R., this would not be considered a huge loss. While Schafer is superior defensively, Constanza would likely provide more value with his bat and speed off the bench.
Looking at the big picture, the Braves also have to at least evaluate whether it would make more sense to have Gattis catching for Triple-A Gwinnett on a daily basis. If this possibility develops, we will gain a better sense about the club’s confidence in Christian Bethancourt’s ability to hit enough to serve as Atlanta’s starting catcher in 2014.
Food for thought: Depending on how the Braves utilize their remaining offdays and align their starting pitchers for the last two split-squad games, Tim Hudson or Kris Medlen could fall in line for the Opening Day start. But why should there be any question. Both are going to pitch in the opening series and this lines both up to also pitch in the first series of the year against the Nationals. So why would you even think about giving this honor to a guy with 30 career starts (Medlen) instead of your veteran leader who has been a valuable part of your rotation since 2005?
It has been a lot of fun to watch highly-regarded prospect J.R. Graham pitch and display his intensity over the past couple of weeks. My favorite Spring Training story so far was the one he told about being nine years-old and getting a ball that Hudson tossed to him after Hudson completed his bullpen work before a start for the A’s in Oakland. Graham and his high-powered fastball will likely begin the year in Double-A Mississippi’s rotation. But if the Braves need a starter some time after the start of June, you have to wonder if Graham will be their top choice. He has made just nine starts above the Class A level and needs just a little more seasoning.