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Atlanta took him in the 23rd round. Gattis signed for $1,000 and reported to the Braves' rookie league team in Danville, Va.
Gattis's folkloric status preceded him to camp this spring, long before he ever took a swing in a major league game. In 2011, Gattis hit 22 home runs and slugged .601 in 88 games at Class A, and the shots he hit caught the eye of several Braves veterans—including Chipper Jones—during spring training in 2012. Last year Gattis hit 18 more homers and batted .305 at three minor league levels, finishing the season at Double A. He had intimidating raw power and flashed an above-average arm as a catcher, but he was still a 26-year-old fringe prospect with only 49 games of experience above high A ball.
Last October, Gattis joined Aguilas del Zulia in the Venezuelan winter league. By the end of December his career arc had spiked. He slugged 16 home runs, tying him for the league lead even though he left Aguilas a week before the end of the schedule.
Gattis arrived in spring training with a reputation for hitting epic home runs and the Bunyanesque new nickname a cab driver in Venezuela had given him: El Oso Blanco, the White Bear. He won a spot on the Braves' Opening Day roster thanks to a standout spring and a shoulder injury that forced starting catcher Brian McCann onto the disabled list for the first month of the season. McCann returned to the lineup on May 6, but by then Gattis had been so productive (he hit six home runs in April) that Atlanta kept Gattis on the big league roster. To get his bat into the lineup, manager Fredi Gonzalez has used Gattis at first base and in leftfield as well as McCann's backup behind the plate. "My job is to get him more at bats, somehow," says Gonzalez. "And we will do that."
Gattis has embraced the structure of pro ball's daily routine. "I never thought I would like it," he says. "I used to love waking up not knowing what I was going to do today." Now he's meticulous about the details, logging every CrossFit workout and counting every calorie and protein gram. In the minor leagues he began reading the work of J. Eric Bickel, an engineering professor at Texas who has studied the optimal decisions for a hitter to make in each count, a program that helps shape Gattis's approach at the plate.
A contented mind clears the way for Gattis to let his physical tools take over. His swing is explosive yet compact, which lets him generate power while maintaining a relatively high contact rate. That may help him avoid the slump that often comes when rookies face pitchers a second and third time. "He has such a short swing that he won't have to make that many adjustments," an NL scout says. "He attacks the strike zone and has power to all fields."
Braves G.M. Frank Wren praises Gattis's ability to "take everything in stride," and Gattis acknowledges that his experiences have given him a mature perspective many rookies don't have. "It makes my errors and stuff like that easier to swallow," he says. Gonzalez puts it more bluntly. "This guy has lived some life," the manager says. "A baseball game's not going to faze him too much."
The easy metaphor for Gattis's first two months in the majors is that he's Roy Hobbs—an older rookie with a mysterious past who arrives from nowhere to torture opposing pitchers. Indeed, when he hit that grand slam at Turner Field, the theme to The Natural blared over the P.A. system as he rounded the bases. And with each home run, with each @GattisFacts entry (If Evan Gattis were President, he would protect the secret service.... Evan Gattis can text using a rotary phone....), his story takes on a more mythic feel. But somewhere, deep down, Gattis might have known he'd end up here. When he learned he had made the Braves' roster this spring, he cried in Gonzalez's office. Among the barrage of congratulatory text messages that followed was one from Kendrick. Remembering their late-night conversation a few years ago, Gattis replied to his stepbrother with one simple word: "Destiny."