After sporting the worst record at the Class A level for much of the season's first three months, the Rome Braves have become one of the South Atlantic League's more formidable clubs, thanks in large part to an offense that has turned the corner. The R-Braves concluded a nine-game road trip Sunday with a 6-3 record after averaging 7.1 runs per outing, including eight home runs in four games at hitter-friendly McCormick Field in Asheville.
As with any uprising, there have been multiple reasons for the increase in productivity, among them second baseman Tommy La Stella, an eighth-round pick in June out of Coastal Carolina who is hitting .405 with 19 RBIs in August, and first baseman Chris Garcia, who is leading the SAL with a .323 batting average. Also contributing to the heart of order has been catcher Evan Gattis, a two-time SAL Player of the Week recipient since mid July.
The hard-hitting backstop out of Texas-Permian Basin has been pounding pitchers with a vengeance. After opening the season in extended spring training, Gattis joined Rome in early May and worked his way into the starting lineup during his first month with the club. He has found his groove during the second half, increasing his batting average in August from .294 to .326 by hitting at a .415 clip with eight doubles, six home runs and 20 RBIs. Gattis is tied for third in the SAL with 22 home runs and would lead the league lead in hitting if he had enough plate appearances.
"I was disappointed about not making a team out of Spring Training, but I worked hard to improve while I was in Orlando," Gattis said. "I did everything I could to improve all aspects of my game. I started out playing every couple of games before working my way into the lineup. Once I found my rhythm at the plate, I started making consistent contact, and since then I've been able to put up some solid numbers."
Gattis admits he never envisioned having this type of success, not after giving up the game for nearly four years. Highly recruited out of high school, the catcher signed a letter of intent to attend Texas A&M but never played at College Station. He instead went through a rehab stint before spending parts of two years at Seminole Junior College and then quitting to explore other things life has to offer. After some extensive traveling, Gattis received another opportunity to play at Division II Texas-Permian Basin. He made the most of the chance and wound up getting drafted by the Braves in the 23rd round in 2010.
"From out of nowhere I was motivated to give the game everything I had," Gattis said. "I wound up having a good season and was drafted by the Braves, and now I thank God every day for the opportunity I've been given."
The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Gattis celebrated his 25th birthday on Aug. 18 and knows he must continue to produce in order to make up for lost time. So far, he's been able to do that with his performance at the plate as well as behind it.
"I know I have a lot of work to do, but my goal right now is to get better every time I take the field," Gattis said. "I'm at ease with myself and thoroughly appreciate every day I'm given to play this game. I know I'm fortunate to be here, and now I want to make the most of the opportunity I've been given."
Hit 'em where they ain't: As Tommy La Stella and Evan Gattis rank one-two among SAL hitters in August, Augusta outfielder Ryan Lollis has played a key role in the GreenJackets' run for a playoff spot. Augusta is second in the Southern Division's second-half standings, two games behind Savannah, and Lollis is hitting .388 in 20 games this month, including 11 multi-hit outings.
Schnaitmann's the man: Asheville entered Tuesday night's game with a staff ERA of 5.34, equaling the league's all-time high established by Salisbury in 121 games in 1968. Should the Tourists avoid the dubious distinction, they should thank Nick Schnaitmann. Since joining Asheville on July 21, the right-hander is 5-1 with a 2.30 ERA in seven starts, including a 4-0, 2.52 mark in August. He also has gone at least seven innings in his last five outings and has an overall strikeout-to-walk ratio of 26-to-8.
Climbing 'the wall: Powerful right fielder Dan Grovatt has raised his batting average 17 points this month while hitting safely in 11 of his last 12 games, including seven multi-hit outings. The former University of Virginia standout hit at a .367 clip with 17 RBIs in his first 21 games this month. "This is the time when, if you're playing for a championship in the big leagues, you need to be firing on all cylinders," Grovatt told the West Virginia Gazette. "You're going to be tired out there, but if you can control it in your mind, you should be able to get through it. Our college coach said the mind will quit long before the body will quit. It's very true."