the white bear

Like the swallows returning to San Juan Capistrano, there is no spring tradition quite like the veteran supernova. At each and every Spring Training facility across baseball lurks the great story of a career minor leaguer, waiting for his chance to fulfil a dream by reaching the big leagues.

While camps are lousy with players like this, it is the rare breed who catches fire for a few weeks and attracts all manner of spring attention. Spring Training is essentially a information-less vacuum by the second week of March. Beat writers are like nature, they abhor a vacuum. Into this void goes the upbeat story of the plucky underdog for whom everything goes right one spring.

For the Braves — more specifically, Atlanta Journal-Constitution beat writer Dave O’Brien — their great spring hope is Evan Gattis.

Gattis has all the pedigree to make himself a great spring underdog. He is a mostly positionless outfielder with huge pop and a terrific nickname: EL Oso Blanco – the White Bear. Gattis earned the nickname playing in the Venezuelan League, where he tied for the league lead in home runs.

The White Bear isn’t exactly a name racing up the top prospects lists thanks to his lack of a position and his age. At 26 and yet to play above Double-A, Gattis is a walking warning sign over relying too heavily on minor league stats. Playing high-A at 25 is a significant red flag, even if the player did take four years off of baseball “finding himself” when he wasn’t in rehab. His appeal is obvious, he doesn’t even wear batting gloves, for heaven’s sake!

The Braves are going to give Gattis every opportunity to work his way onto their Opening Day roster considering the injury to starter Brian McCann and the general lack of power on the Braves current bench. Will El Orso Blanco make an impact on the Braves roster in 2013? It would be nice and all but, seriously, it’s pretty unlikely.

The BARVES seem to like a lot of what they see in Gattis’ bat but until he proves he can hit high-end pitching, it remains an uphill battle for Gattis. From a DOB column in January:

So far, Gattis has answered every challenge, pounding pitchers wherever the Braves have sent him during a minor-league career that’s included just 222 games and 933 plate appearances. He did the same against a motley assortment of Venezuelan pitchers that includes everything from raw youngsters to crafty has-beens.

A more mature body hitting against players two or three years his junior in the minor leagues and pounding around the VWL does not a big leaguer make. As entertaining a story Gattis might become, it is foolish for fans of the BARVES to expect big contributions from the big right-handed hitter.

So goes the siren song of spring stats. The Simon Pond‘s of the world enchant with their tantalizing mix of power and narrative during a time of year desperately in need of excitement. Maybe there is something to these stories, perhaps Gattis and Ruf will swing the balance of power in the NL East away from the Nationals with their “excellent players around the diamond.” Flys in the ointment all over the place.

Or Gattis will become just another quad-A slugger who came close but just didn’t hit enough to stick. At least his is a story which bears monitoring. While not exactly pulling for him, Evan Gattis costs the Braves nothing and yet he could represent a feather in the scouting department’s cap should his minor league power translate at the big league level.