Gartrell keeps positive outlook in effort to make majors

Stefan Gartrell's season a year ago was good enough to earn him a place in the AAA All-Star Game, as well as a spot on the International League postseason all-star team.

What it didn't produce was a major league opportunity in Atlanta.

Despite leading the IL in RBIs and setting a Gwinnett record in that category, as well as for home runs, the slugging outfielder is back with the G-Braves.

Who could blame Gartrell if he was wondering, "Just what to I have to do?"

That's not his mindset, though. Sure, the disappointment is there. But so is his positive outlook.

"I would have loved to get called up last year or get more of an opportunity to make the team this spring," Gartrell said. "But I can't let it get me down. I'll just have to use this season to get me where I want to go.

"My goal is to be more consistent. If I can keep the highs high and the lows from being too low, I'll have done my job and maybe changed some minds."

Gartrell's season was a bit of a rollercoaster a year ago, his batting averaging tapering off to .262. But he led the IL with 94 RBIs and his home run total of 26 was second.

The power numbers intrigued Atlanta fans, who wondered why the Braves didn't promote Gartrell with the team obviously in need of a right-handed bat.

But Atlanta reacquired veteran Matt Diaz from Pittsburgh and that closed off a potential spot for Gartrell, who had been picked up from the Chicago White Sox in April.

Gartrell, who turned 28 in January, has spent his whole career trying to win converts. He wasn't taken until the 31st round of the 2006 draft after graduating from the University of San Francisco and the White Sox started him in rookie ball.

He beat the odds by earning spring training looks and a spot on the Chicago 40-man roster after hitting 23 homers in 2009 and 27 in 2010. But he failed to stick with the White Sox last spring and the Braves put in a claim when he went on waivers, eventually working out a cash transaction.

After hitting .304 in seven games for Charlotte, Gartrell joined the G-Braves and made a quick impression. He hit .345 in May with five homers and 20 RBIs.

But he had trouble with pitch recognition at times as the season went on and his plate discipline wavered.

Still, he had 32 doubles as well as the 26 homers and a slugging mark of .504. He had 44 walks to give him an on-base percentage of .338, but he did strike out 118 times.

"I need to raise the walks a little and cut down the strikeouts," Gartrell said.

The move from an American League organization to a National League system of the Braves eliminated the designated hitter as a route to the majors. But Gartrell tries not to look at that as a negative.

"In the National League you don't have the DH, but you do have more of a need for pinch hitters," he said. "I look at both sides of it."

For Gartrell, things are half full, not half empty. "I try to stay positive," he said.

The San Francisco native played winter ball in Venezuela, but the highlight of his offseason came the month before he headed down to South America.

Gartrell got married in November. He met his wife, Shavon, at the San Francisco church they both attend, Glad Tidings.

The couples' married life started with the stay in Venezuela. Now, Georgia will be home.

At least another move won't be required if he is called up to Atlanta for his first big league chance.

"I told her to find an apartment in between," Gartrell said. "It is great being so close."

So close, but yet so far.

"Sometimes you just have to be lucky," Gartrell said. "It is all about timing. The opportunity has to be there at the right time. Hopefully it will be for me."

Gartrell has his degree in business administration, with an emphasis on marketing and advertising, to fall back on. But he wants to chase his baseball dream as long as he can.

"I feel blessed," he said. "God gave me the ability to play a game I love and I want to use that ability to the fullest. I think my chance will come. I have to be ready when it does."