LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In his second Braves camp as manager, Fredi Gonzalez likes what he sees from the organization’s up-and-coming catchers.
Highly regarded prospect Christian Bethancourt, 20, and strapping Evan Gattis, 24, were among the catchers in a hitting group late in Tuesday’s batting practice on the main field at Champion Stadium.
Listed at 6-4 and 230 pounds, Gattis won the South Atlanta League batting title at Class A Rome by batting .322 with 22 homers, 71 RBIs and a .386 OBP in just 88 games. He was older than most in A-ball because he was once out of baseball for four years, struggling with personal problems including a drug problem.
“I was joking with [roving catching instructor] Joe Breeden,” said Gonzalez, also a former minor league catcher. “I said ‘Man, we’ve finally got some guys that look like catchers.’ They’re all 6-2, 240. Gattis is a monster. And Bethancourt looks like he could put some weight on him.”
Gattis is old school at the plate, batting without gloves.
“I saw him out there doing about a hundred pull-ups the other day — without gloves,” Gonzalez said. “He’s strong.”
Diaz hopes to speed up (hands) by slimming down
Left fielder Matt Diaz took a less-is-more approach this winter, slimming down after hitting no homers and slugging .323 in 251 at-bats for Pittsburgh and Atlanta in 2011.
He had seven homers and a .428 slugging percentage in 224 at-bats for the Braves in 2010, then bulked up after signing a two-year contract with Pittsburgh in December that year. He was traded back to the Braves on Aug. 31.
“I did more power lifting and that stuff because in my mind, [Pittsburgh] is a big field and I wanted to add some more pop,” Diaz said of his strategy a year ago, when he said he followed recommendations by a since-fired Pirates strength coach.
“But it just absolutely backfired. I wasn’t free and easy with my swing. I didn’t have hand speed, which leads to power. I was strong in the weight room, but had no bat speed. It disappeared. There’s a lot more than strength to hitting, and I know that.”
He doesn’t know how much he weighs now because, he said, he stopped weighing a while back. But he does know this: “The clothes I wore in ’09 fit me.”