Brian McCann has completed his minor league rehab assignment, and is set to return to Atlanta’s active roster today. The All-Star catcher has been working his way back from surgery he had in October to repair a torn labrum in his throwing shoulder.
His return, which should be celebrated on the one hand, raises questions on the other as to what should be done with rookie sensation Evan Gattis, who has been occupying and excelling at McCann’s position through the first month of the season.
The Braves have already indicated that neither Gattis nor Gerald Laird will be sent down to make room for McCann. The plan is to option infielder Tyler Pastornicky to Triple-A Gwinnett. That means Atlanta will be carrying three catchers as the team opens a series against Cincinnati today.
As long as he is healthy, and all indications are that he is, McCann has to play. He is a six-time All Star (2006-2011) and has won five Silver Slugger awards (given to the league’s best offensive player at his position) since his debut in 2005. His bat, his defense and his ability to call games for Atlanta’s pitching staff has keyed the club’s success since the mid 2000s. The Braves need everything a healthy McCann brings to the table as they battle the Washington Nationals for a division title in the NL East.
Atlanta must continue to find at-bats for Gattis. The NL Rookie of the Month for April is hitting .261 with seven home runs and 18 RBIs – second on the team for both categories behind Justin Upton. Several of those runs were driven in at key clutch moments to propel the Braves to a victory.
The team has to learn what exactly they have with Gattis. Is he a one-month flash in the pan, or is his bat a could-be mainstay in Atlanta’s offensive attack? The only way to know for sure is to allow him consistent plate appearances on an ongoing basis. Gattis will certainly be the backup catcher who spells McCann on off days, but the Braves will need to trust him defensively to allow him to rotate and get spot starts to provide relief for Freddie Freeman at first base and in the outfield.
If Gattis shows that his April numbers are the type he can produce consistently, his emergence will also give the organization leverage and flexibility in the offseason. McCann will become a free agent at the end of the year.
Having too much depth is a problem all managers would prefer to the alternative. Gattis’ emergence has created that good problem for Atlanta to begin trying sorting out. Gattis should not be cast aside as a backup unless he is unable to sustain his current production through continued at-bats.
In the meantime, if you haven’t already had the chance to read up on Gattis’ emotional journey to the big leagues, you should. USA Today tells his compelling story here.