Braves rookie: ‘All I could think about was killing myself’
“I was in a mental hospital,” he tells USA TODAY Sports. “I couldn’t sleep for an entire week, and I knew something was wrong with me. So I got admitted. I was so depressed, all I could think about was killing myself.
“I wanted to kill myself for a long time.”
The rookie sensation is a 26-year-old former janitor, who, over four years, meandered through life before signing for a $1,000 bonus. Gattis was diagnosed with clinical depression and anxiety six years ago and, through medication, therapy and time, eventually discovered what he wanted out of life.
“I remember him telling his life story to three of us in the weight room in spring training,” Braves bullpen catcher Alan Butts says, “and by the time he was done, 20 guys stopped what they were doing to listen. We didn’t know what to say. Finally, I said, ‘Dude, that’s unbelievable.’
“Now, everywhere we go, you see other teams stop what they’re doing to watch him take BP and say, ‘Who is this kid?'”
Gattis, 6-4, 235 pounds, who had played 49 games higher than Class A and none above Class AA, openly wept when Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez told him at the end of spring training that he made the team.
Hart paved way for Braves’ long-term extensions
Along with being one of Braves president John Schuerholz’s closest friends in the baseball industry, Hart had just completed the final year of his contract with the Rangers, who had utilized him in this same role ever since he ended his days as their general manager after the 2005 season.
Hart’s attraction to this opportunity was also influenced by the fact that the Braves’ Spring Training complex is just a short drive from his Orlando-area home.
What was not revealed, when he was hired in November, was that the Braves were already planning to lock up many of their young talented players, much the same way Hart did when he essentially created this model while serving as the Indians’ general manager during the 1990s.
Had Hart not accepted his current role, the Braves were still going to take the steps that led to them signing Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Andrelton Simmons and Julio Teheran to long-term extensions over the past few weeks. But there was certainly a benefit to Hart’s presence and guidance through this process.
“He’s a great asset for us to have in-house,” general manager Frank Wren said. “But we had started this process even before he had joined us. So it was great to have him sitting in on some of the meetings as we were progressing and having some of those conversations. But also the landscape has changed. He’ll be the first to tell you that it is a different environment than it was in the early 1990s, when they became the first club to make this approach to signing young guys vogue.”
Atlanta Braves 2014 fantasy baseball team preview
Lineup Analysis: Atlanta’s reputation as an all-or-nothing offense is well-earned. The Braves ranked fifth in the majors in homers last season, and four returning players had 20 or more, including Upton (27), Freeman (23), Dan Uggla (22) and Evan Gattis (21). The tradeoff is a team that also ranked 20th in batting average (.249) and 24th in stolen bases (64).
Jordan Schafer, who will fight for playing time with B.J. Upton, led the team with 22 stolen bases. Add it all up, and Atlanta should finish in the middle of the pack in runs and RBIs again. It will balance out for Roto leaguers, but H2H leaguers could experience feast or famine, especially with the Upton brothers.
Position Battle: The Braves have a lot invested in B.J. Upton, who they signed to a five-year, $72.5 million deal in 2013. But he bottomed out by hitting .184 last season, including a .106 average in September. Upton had a whopping 33.9 K-percentage last season, well above even his 26.0-percent career mark.
Owners still won’t be able to swear off Upton, mainly because he had 20/20 seasons in 2007, ’11 and ’12, a year in which he nearly went 30/30. Still, Upton might be fighting with Schafer for regular at-bats. Schafer is unlikely to push Upton out right away (money being the No. 1 factor), but it’s a competition worth watching.
Another battle to watch is Dan Uggla vs. Ramiro Pena at second base. It’s the same old story with Uggla: he has power (22 HRs), but he’ll drain your team’s batting average in a hurry. The said, he could provide a very cheap 20-30 homers at 2B this season if he keeps the starting job.
Wren Could Face Major Dilemna
If B.J. Upton doesn’t get his production turned around, it could present one of the strangest situations that Braves fans have witnessed in many a year.
Wren’s son, Kyle, was drafted by the Braves last spring. Unlike Braves President John Schuerholz’s son Jonathan, who was also drafted by the Braves, Kyle Wren can really play. I covered Georgia Tech baseball when Kyle was a freshman and watched as he earned All-ACC honors.
Kyle Wren has a smooth swing, plays solid center field, runs well and can steal bases. He also has excellent baseball instincts, which isn’t surprising considering his lineage. Wren hit .409 in 25 at bats in the Rookie League and followed that up by hitting .328 with a .382 on-base percentage .456 slugging percentage and 32 stolen bases in 38 attempts at Single-A Rome.
If he keeps developing, it wouldn’t surprise me if Kyle Wren is promoted to Double-A Mississippi by mid-season. Once a player hits Mississippi and is productive, he is literally a phone call away from the Big Show. The Braves often bypass Triple-A and call up players straight from Mississippi.
It may be a major stretch for Kyle Wren to be called up to the majors by this season. But he could be in the Braves camp next spring. And what if the kid really develops and becomes a top prospect, how ironic would it be if his road to playing as a regular in the major leagues is blocked by a guy who his dad signed to a big money contract? A guy who may be making big money, but is not very productive.