Versatile Gattis could earn himself bench role

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez kept close watch as Evan Gattis was producing impressive numbers at the Minor League level last year. Now Gonzalez is approaching the Grapefruit League season, eagerly anticipating the chance to evaluate whether Gattis could help his bench this upcoming season.

Defensive concerns will likely prevent Gattis from being an everyday catcher at the Major League level. But his ability to play the position, combined with his power potential, makes him an interesting option for a bench role. The odds of him landing this role will increase if he proves he can play left field and first base during Spring Training.

"If it was up to our bench coach [Carlos Tosca], he'll play someplace every single day because he loves to see him hit," Gonzalez said. "So I'm sure I'll be getting tugged on the uniform with him asking, 'When we going to put Gattis in?'"

Gattis combined to hit .305 with 18 home runs and a .607 slugging percentage while primarily playing for Class A Advanced Lynchburg and Double-A Mississippi last year. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound slugger continued to impress when he hit . 303 with 16 home runs and a .595 slugging percentage in the Venezuelan Winter League.

Now the Braves have even more reason to find a position for the 26-year-old Gattis, who stopped playing baseball for four years before resuming his baseball career at age 23. Gattis began to transition from catcher to left fielder during the final two months of last season with Mississippi. He played some left field in Venezuela, but primarily was used as a designated hitter.

"I'll play anywhere and as many positions as I can," Gattis said. "I just want to be one of the eight [position players]."

While playing in Venezuela, Gattis said he received some assistance from teammate Gerardo Parra, the strong-armed D-backs outfielder who won a Gold Glove Award in 2011.

With Brian McCann expected to miss at least the season's first two weeks, Gattis could start the year as Atlanta's backup catcher. But to keep his bat more readily available off the bench, the Braves could choose to carry him as a third catcher, who would likely see more time at first base or in the outfield.