The 2018-19 off-season is still in the opening stages. While the current temperature of the stove is more lukewarm than hot, rumors of potential trades continue to filter through the news. One interesting rumor is the idea that Cleveland Indians starter Corey Kluber is potentially on the trade market.
With a gaudy resume, three years of control, and an affordable contract, Kluber is the kind of pitcher to demand a king’s ransom in a trade. Any competitor, including the Atlanta Braves, should be interested in acquiring Kluber. However, one thing should be clear for Atlanta. The team should not trade outfield prospect Cristian Pache this off-season.
The Atlanta Braves Should Not Trade Cristian Pache
Pache first began coming into his own during the 2017 season. While super prospect Ronald Acuña Jr. was stealing the headlines throughout the organization, Pache was putting together a quality year with Single-A Rome. At just 18-years-old, he appeared in 119 games while hitting .281 with 32 stolen bases and 60 runs scored.
Quickly turning heads with his elite defense and speed, the only significant weakness in Pache’s game was a considerable lack of power. He slugged .343 last season without a home run and just 21 extra-base hits. However, it was expected he would gain some power as his body continued to progress.
Offensive Progress Reason for Optimism
Expecting Pache to suddenly burst onto the scene with Acuña-esque power is likely a fool’s errand. Acuña has demonstrated he is not your average player with incredible, game-changing power. However, 2018 saw Pache grow in the one area he was especially lacking.
After going two seasons without a professional home run, Pache hit nine in 122 games across Advanced-A Florida and Double-A Mississippi in 2018. He added 23 doubles and six triples, good enough for a .410 slugging percentage. While a season slash line of .279/.307/.410 with 97 strikeouts is not exactly breath-taking, there’s no denying Pache’s bat is making progress. Trading him on the brink of a potential breakthrough would be short-sighted.
Atlanta’s Lack of Positional Prospects
Atlanta’s farm system has been well-heralded as one of the best in baseball during the rebuild. While that remains true, it must be noted that the system is very pitching driven. It is true that no team can ever have enough pitching, but the Los Angeles Dodgers, Houston Astros, and Boston Red Sox demonstrated you also need a deep and talented offense to compete for a championship.
According to MLB Pipeline, seven of Atlanta’s top 10 prospects are pitchers. Among position players, third baseman Austin Riley (No. 5) and Pache (No. 6) are the highest rated with 19-year-old outfielder Drew Waters (No. 8) the other in the top 10. Each player in this trio is intriguing in his own right. Additionally, the criticism that Atlanta doesn’t have any impact position prospects does not hold weight.
It does remain true that the Braves do not have many highly-touted position prospects, and that is where the pause on trading Pache comes into play. For Atlanta to pull off a trade, for Kluber or any other high-profile target, a package must be mainly built around pitching. As painful as it would be, losing Touki Toussaint or Kyle Wright in a trade is preferable to dealing any of the top position players in the system.
Pache Possesses High Ceiling
Pache will never be the power prospect Acuña was, and that’s okay. His value currently comes from his elite defense, but that defense continues to draw rave reviews throughout the industry. John Sickels with Minor League Ball wrote this year that “Reviews on Pache’s defense are glowing, with speed, range/instincts, and arm strength all playing splendidly in center field.” Josh Norris at Baseball America also lauded Pache’s defensive prowess: “Pache’s real attraction is the smooth, near-flawless defense he plays in center field. He shows tremendous first-step instincts, as well as an innate ability to glide to balls hit to any part of the park.”
As with any player, Pache’s bat will eventually have to rise to a level suitable to play every day. What good is a glove that cannot hit enough to stay on the field? Still, his progress in 2018 shows he is capable, growing, and continuing to raise his already impressive ceiling.
Atlanta does need to find ways to improve its 90-win team heading into 2019. The simple reality is management must find a way to do so without losing Cristian Pache. Trading the young outfielder now would be a big mistake.
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