This offseason, the Atlanta Braves lost a player that had been with the team since he was drafted in the 2002 amateur draft. Brian McCann, from Duluth, GA, was a home-town prospect and Braves fans had gotten spoiled with such a great player behind the plate. However, with a Braves’ contract offer of one year and $14.1 million, McCann decided that it would be in his best interest to test the free-agent market. By doing so, he signed a five year, $85 million contract with the New York Yankees. With McCann gone, Braves fans are left to wonder what is going to happen behind the plate in 2014.
When asked, a normal Braves fan will probably tell you that Evan Gattis will fill that void behind home plate. For the most part, they are right, for now. There’s no doubt that Gattis can hit; he hit 21 home runs and 21 doubles in his 105 games played in his rookie season (2013). That would mean that out of his 86 total hits, 42 were for extra bases. An even more impressive number shows that Gattis can hit anytime, anyplace. Off of the bench, he hit .500 for the season going 7-14, and four of those seven hits were home runs. That in itself is impressive due to the fact that it is hard for many guys to get off the bench cold and go get a hit. In his games played behind the plate, Gattis threw out 33 percent of the runners that were trying to steal a base, where McCann averaged a 24 percent rate. He did have two errors in his 42 games played, which is a little higher rate than McCann’s four in 92 games. However, I do not see a big enough difference in their defensive ability to mean people will be begging for McCann come May.
The second guy on the depth chart right now is 33-year-old Gerald Laird. If the team is in need of some base hits, I see him as the go-to guy over the powerful Gattis. He hits for a higher average and doesn’t strike out nearly as much as his younger teammate. However, in 2013, he only hit one home run in all of his games played. Behind the plate, he made no errors in his 40 games, and he also threw out 36 percent of his runners, which is right on his career average of 35 percent. Behind the plate, Laird is the clear cut best defensive catcher on the roster to this point.
I don’t expect that to last very long though. The Braves have a kid that played for their AA affiliate Mississippi Braves in the 2013 season. He’s a 21-year-old guy who the Braves have had in their organization since he was 16 years old, and many scouts compare him to Yadier Molina. Christian Bethancourt hit .277 in 2013, with a total of 12 home runs and 21 doubles, but more impressively had 99 hits in 90 games played. He has made large steps in his progress toward the big leagues as he progresses through the minors. Where people are most impressed is with his defense; his career percentage of baserunners caught stealing is 37 percent, which is almost 10 percent higher than the MLB average. He has an above average arm, he plays great defense behind the plate, and he has been able to hit any pitching. Braves fans can only hope that he sees time in Atlanta before long.
Losing McCann is heartbreaking for fans of this team, but they should know that they have little to worry about. I’d be more excited about seeing Gattis hit balls all over the park and Bethancourt play some awesome defense in the future.