What to expect from Atlanta’s backstops in 2014
The Atlanta Braves will go into a season without catcher Brian McCann for the first time since 2005. It will be a transition for the fans who won’t see their long-time fan favorite come up to the batter’s box along with the “All I do is win” plate song by D.J. Khaled.
Braves fans, let’s grieve over the loss of McCann for a minute.
McCann, who signed a free-agent contract with the New York Yankees this winter, was a great player for the Braves. In fact he’ll be remembered as one of the best catchers in franchise history. He enjoyed seven seasons of 20 or more home runs, four seasons of 80-plus RBI and nine years of being a constant professional and a leader within the organization.
The Atlanta faithful was able to see a good bit into the future last season with Evan Gattis, whose story should serve as an inspiration to others who want to live out their dream, but are having struggles along the way.
Last season, Gattis was a 26-year-old rookie living out his dream of playing in the big leagues. He made the most of it, hitting 21 home runs, 65 RBI with a .243/.291/.480 batting line in 105 games. He served as the backup catcher to McCann and also played some left field along the way.
He’s destined to serve as the team’s primary catcher in 2014 and is ready to step up. He’s not going to make Braves fans forget about McCann, rather make the loss of a franchise great a little easier to cope with.
Gattis has a similar build to McCann, registered at 6’4″, 230 pounds, he’s got a power stroke that could be something special for the next 7-10 years. He was the clutch guy who came through time and time again with his pinch hit and late game home runs. He is becoming a fan favorite with the Braves, including earning the nickname “El Oso Blanco” which means “The White Bear.”
Even with the loss of McCann and having Gattis inserted into the lineup, the catching depth for the Braves is among the best in baseball. Atlanta will enter its second season with backup Gerald Laird. He’s serving the David Ross role, who backed up McCann for four years and was recently behind the plate for the Red Sox’s magical World Series moment back in October.
Laird isn’t going to be the starter, but he’s a guy who can spell Gattis when needed. In fact, it wouldn’t shock anyone if he received a little more playing time for Gattis, who will be entering his first full season as the primary catcher, just to keep the 27-year-old fresh throughout the season.
That’s not a bad thing. Laird is a savvy veteran who knows how to play the game. He’s got experience in the postseason and in big games. He’s been to the World Series with the St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers in this decade alone. He’s a perfect backup for Gattis.
Even with the said Gattis and Laird in the fold, the Braves have one of the best catching prospects lurking and waiting for his opportunity in Christian Bethancourt.
The 21-year-old received a call to the majors late last season, but struck out in his only plate appearance. Not fair to judge him on that. So, let’s look at his minor league totals.
A guy who has been credited more towards his defense than his hitting ability, Bethancourt saw a big jump in his offensive production last season, hitting .277/.305/436 with 12 home runs and 45 RBI and 21 doubles in 90 games at Double-A Mississippi.
It’s going to be interesting to see how the Braves handle this situation. Gattis is the starter at catcher, Laird is the backup. The best option would be to allow Bethancourt, who is entering his age 22 season, to get another year of development in the minor leagues. It would also give him an opportunity to improve on his offensive breakout numbers he earned last season.
For the Braves, Gattis and Laird can hold down the backstop for 2014. Of course, health permitting, these two will serve the Braves as they contend for another division title. The only time Bethancourt should be in the Braves lineup is if something health wise happens to Gattis and/or Laird.
It’s not that Bethancourt isn’t ready for a big league opportunity, it’s just the time isn’t right and the depth is there in Atlanta even with the loss of McCann. There is no need to rush the prospect. Let him tell us when he’s ready to start full-time in the big leagues.
It would be hard-pressed for Ryan Doumit to find any playing time as catcher for the Braves this season. He was acquired earlier this winter from the Minnesota Twins for prospect Sean Gilmartin. He will be the third catcher behind Gattis and Laird. If anything he will see more time as a reserve outfielder if he makes the team out of Spring Training.
For entertainment purposes, those who love McCann’s plate song can watch it here on You Tube, courtesy of KOCHRECORDS
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