5 Players Who Could Emerge from Winter Leagues as the Next Evan Gattis in MLB
At this time last year, Evan Gattis was an obscure 26-year-old minor leaguer with some power and no real future in Major League Baseball.
Fast forward to today: Gattis will have a chance to be starting catcher for the Atlanta Braves after slugging .480 and hitting 21 homers as a rookie.
It's a testament to the job Gattis has done after quitting baseball from 2006-10, as well as the work of the Atlanta development staff, that he has been able to carve out any kind of MLB career.
There aren't many players with Gattis' exact story floating around the minors, but that doesn't mean no one can duplicate what he has done. With winter leagues happening all around the world right now, we thought it would be fun to see if there are any diamonds in the rough.
Players we have listed are not necessarily going to repeat Gattis' career path or scouting reports, nor are they likely to earn a starting job in the big leagues. But their profiles suggest that they could warrant a look.
Note: All stats courtesy of MiLB.com unless otherwise noted.
Moises Sierra, OF, Toronto Blue Jays
Dominican Winter League Stats: 41 G, .322/.391/.421, 49 H, 3 2B, 4 HR, 15 BB, 32 K, 5 SB
Moises Sierra's career arc has been one to follow. He came into Toronto's organization in 2005 with a lot of hype out of the Dominican Republic, but toiled in the lower levels of the minors without ever seeing his tremendous raw tools take the next step.
Injuries derailed Sierra's path to the big leagues, as he played in just 20 games in 2010. He came back and had his best season, up to that point, in 2011, hitting .277/.342/.436 in 133 games at Double-A.
Taking advantage of the hitter-friendly environment in Las Vegas during the 2012 season, Sierra hit .289/.360/.472 and played 49 games with the Blue Jays. He also played 35 games in Toronto during the 2013 season but spent most of the year back in Vegas.
Sierra, 25, has one thing that every team covets: raw power.
He can crush the ball in batting practice, which is a big reason the Blue Jays have stuck with him for so long. Unfortunately, when you have trouble with off-speed stuff and lack an approach, it can be hard for that power to show up.
Like Gattis, Sierra is a player who won't hit for average or get on base but, under the right (lucky) circumstances, could hit 15-20 homers in the big leagues. He also possesses plus arm strength that allows him to slot in at right field.
The biggest problem with Sierra, who is still dripping with raw tools, has been translating those skills into actual performance. It's hard to give up on a player like this, but odds are against him carving out a big league career.
Osvaldo Martinez, IF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Puerto Rican League Stats: 30 G, .313/.346/.444, 31 H, 9 2B, 2 3B, 5 BB, 16 K
Osvaldo Martinez is going to be one of those players whose name you see in a minor league box score for a decade. He doesn't have a great hit tool and can't hit for power, but he does make enough contact to find a few holes every now and then.
Teams will continue to give Martinez a chance, even if it's just in the minors, because of his glove. He's a vacuum at shortstop with plus arm strength and excellent instincts for the position, though he's also spent some time at third base in the winter league.
Considering the offense required to play third base, Martinez has to find a team willing to keep him at shortstop in order to have any shot at the big leagues. The 25-year-old did play 20 games with the Marlins in 2011 but has been searching to get back to that level ever since.
Strong defensive shortstops are always going to be given the benefit of the doubt, even if there's no hope for offensive production, but it's going to take more than one injury at the MLB level to ensure he gets a crack at the big leagues.
Carlos Sanchez, 2B, Chicago White Sox
Venezuelan League Baseball: 51 G, .332/.411/.415, 64 H, 7 2B, 3 3B, 1 HR, 29 RBI, 25 BB, 32 K
I will say up front that I am cheating a little bit with this pick. Carlos Sanchez is still a well-regarded prospect in Chicago's system, having just completed the 2013 season in Triple-A at the age of 21.
However, Sanchez plays in a still-bad-but-improving system and doesn't rank among the best players in it. That doesn't mean he has no future. In fact, I would argue, of all the players mentioned, he has the best chance to carve out some kind of consistent MLB career.
I had a chance to see Sanchez in person during the Arizona Fall League and found him to be an underrated player. He doesn't have an athletic body at 5'11", 195 pounds, but isn't in bad shape.
Sanchez plays a solid second base with a good first step and adequate arm strength, though he won't be a Gold Glove-caliber player. His offensive game is still a little raw, with a profile that relies more on contact than power.
Sanchez also has to develop some patience, though he has a great feel for the strike zone and makes plenty of contact (just 76 strikeouts in 432 at-bats in 2013).
Given the nature of second base profiles, Sanchez has to be at least a 70-grade hitter (.300-.310) to be a first-division starter since he won't hit for power. That isn't likely to happen, but a second-division (non-playoff) team could be a good fit for him in the not-too-distant future.
Jesus Aguilar, 1B, Cleveland Indians
Venezuelan Winter League Stats: 53 G, .324/.393/.604, 67 H, 7 2B, 17 HR, 48 RBI, 22 BB, 40 K
Jesus Aguilar is the only player on this list who can make the 6'4", 230-pound Evan Gattis look small. The Cleveland prospect is listed at 6'3", 250 pounds, but I stood next to him at the 2012 Futures Game and he's bigger than that.
Gattis and Aguilar actually boast similar profiles. Neither one offers much defensively, though Gattis does have some athleticism that allows him to fake it in left field. Aguilar should probably DH full time but stands at first base with a glove about as well as Prince Fielder.
Both players also have the ability to put on a show in batting practice. Aguilar has tremendous raw power, and it has shown up occasionally in games. The 23-year-old slugged .506 with 30 doubles and 23 homers in 126 games two years ago.
Aguilar spent last season in Double-A Akron and slugged just .427 in 130 games. It's not a pretty swing, as he uses all of his upper body and can get destroyed by off-speed stuff or pitches down in the zone, but right-handed pop isn't easy to find.
Unlike Gattis, who had options defensively that made it easier for the Braves to put him on their roster, Aguilar has the disadvantage of being limited to the two positions where being an offensive monster is the only way you can be a starter.
It's going to be an uphill climb for Aguilar to find an MLB job because of his flaws, but the power could get him an opportunity at some point in the next two years.
Kennys Vargas, 1B, Minnesota Twins
Puerto Rican Winter League Stats: 32 G, .257/.336/.425, 29 H, 4 2B, 5 HR, 17 RBI, 12 BB, 27 K
There isn't a more exciting farm system in baseball to watch right now than Minnesota's. The Twins are loaded with high-impact, high-ceiling talent at the top (led by baseball's top prospect, Byron Buxton) and great depth throughout.
Kennys Vargas is an obscure prospect not likely to command a lot of attention, both because his profile isn't ideal and he's so far down the organization's list that it is hard to see him from he top.
Don't sleep on the 23-year-old as being at least a valuable bat off the bench. Vargas has slugged at least .468 in each of the last four seasons, including a remarkable .610 in the pitcher-friendly Midwest League two years ago.
My B/R prospect colleague Mike Rosenbaum wrote about Vargas in a piece he did about finding hidden gems in the minors, calling his offensive potential "intriguing."
That's the perfect word to describe Vargas. He's a big man at 6'5", 215 pounds and is a first base-only prospect, meaning the bat needs a huge profile to play in the big leagues.
Power is going to carry even the most obscure prospects a long way. Vargas is at least two years away from earning a chance to play in the big leagues, but he's got the best tool to push him onto Minnesota's radar if/when he gets there.
Note: Video via Baseball Instinct.
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