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Reflecting on Evan Gattis’ wild Braves journey

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A debut that felt like a Disney movie.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Brian Garfinkel/Getty Images

Earlier this week, Evan Gattis announced he was done playing baseball. What a wild journey it was.

The spring of 2013 belonged to the man dubbed “El Oso Blanco,” or The White Bear. Who was this guy? You couldn’t go more than a day without a local or national writer spilling some ink on the burley we’ll-figure-out-a-position-for-him-later slugger who took camp by storm.

From Janitor to Cleanup Hitter was written by the New York Times, profiling Gattis’ unconventional ride to the big leagues. A former high school baseball standout, Gattis was somewhat surprisingly not drafted and would later check himself into a drug rehabilitation center before infamously working as a janitor, pizza maker and ski lift operator, among other things. The idea of playing baseball at any professional level felt far-fetched, let alone the big leagues.

Gattis never quit, though, and was ultimately drafted by the Braves in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft after catching on at the Division-II level. He made his way through the minor leagues as a catcher and, against all odds, made his big league debut with the Braves in 2013, a team that would go on to win 96 games. He hit his first home run off the late Roy Halladay as the broadcast interviewed his dad. The rest was history.

Gattis would spend the next two seasons in Atlanta, splitting his time behind the plate and in the outfield, batting .253/.304/.487 with 43 homers and a 118 wRC+ across 783 plate appearances.

John Coppolella and John Hart took over in the fall of 2014 and realized what many saw coming: despite the Disney-like story and light-tower power, Gattis would quickly turn into an American League player (see: primarily a designated hitter) stuck on a National League team as he approached his 30s.

Coppolella and Hart traded Gattis (and James Hoyt) to the Houston Astros on January 14, 2015, as the front office ramped up their rebuilding efforts. Gattis was the third player of note traded that winter (so far), joining Jason Heyward and Justin Upton. The return from Houston was regarded as pretty strong throughout the industry: a potential third baseman of the future in Rio Ruiz and two hard-throwing pitching prospects in Mike Foltynewicz and Andrew Thurman.

Ruiz bounced between Gwinnett and Atlanta for a couple seasons before spending 2019 with the Orioles. Despite eclipsing 400 plate appearances, Ruiz hit a paltry 79 wRC+ and was battling for a job this spring on baseball’s worst club.

Thurman last pitched with the Dodgers’ minor league affiliate in 2017.

Foltynewicz was the clear prize of the deal, making 117 starts for the Braves since 2015 and still holding a spot in the rotation today. He’s had some ups and downs, but given the volatility in pitching prospects, I’d say he has worked out pretty well, all things considered.

Gattis would play the better part of four seasons with the Astros, appearing in 494 games with the club. He had one really good year — 2016, in which he posted a 3.0 WAR and 121 wRC+ — but was average in the three others, posting a combined 102 wRC+ during 2015, 2017 and 2018. He did not play in 2019 and ultimately called it a career.

We wish Evan the very best of luck as he continues life away from baseball.