For the second season in a row, a young Braves outfielder is turning heads in Spring Training. Ronald Acuña Jr. entered last season’s Grapefruit League as a highly touted five-tool player, and he did not disappoint. After a few weeks in the minors, Acuña got the call up to Atlanta and more than lived up to the billing. His addition was a spark plug for the team as they captured their first NL East title since 2013.
Cristian Pache Turning Heads
The Next Big Thing?
The talk in spring training so far this season has centered around Cristian Pache. Pache has long been recognized for his great defensive work, drawing comparisons to Andruw Jones. Some were skeptical of labeling the 20-year-old as a five-tool player though, citing his lack of consistent power. However, the number four prospect in Atlanta’s farm system according to MLB Pipeline has been showing off his power during spring training and fans are taking notice.
2/3 of the 🌎 is covered by water …#Braves No. 4 prospect Cristian Pache, arguably #MLB's best defensive prospect, making a tremendous catch. One of only two players on #MLB's Top 100 Prospects list with 70+ field, run & arm tools: https://t.co/GHKO6yYsIe pic.twitter.com/t2w519Ik5W
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) March 5, 2019
The power surge is a welcome addition to his skill set. Pache did not hit a single home run in his first two seasons in the minors. After going nearly 700 at-bats without a homer, he broke out in 2018 with a modest nine home runs. In 12 games this spring, he has shown signs of developing more power with two home runs in only 21 at-bats. He has belted three doubles and driven in eight runs as well.
Despite the strong performance, Pache is slated to start the season in the minors. Braves manager Brian Snitker confirmed that last week when he told MLB.com “He’s going to go to Double-A. If you’re at Double-A, you’re in play. If they get it going, they get noticed and you don’t feel bad about putting them in the big leagues.”
While the Braves may be tempted to bring the speedy right-hander up, he would benefit from another full season in the minors. Twelve spring games are encouraging, but they hardly signal that the 20-year-old has put it all together. Pache has yet to put together a solid all-around season in the minors. Last season, his stolen bases dipped from 32 to seven. He also struck out nearly five times as many times as he walked.
Another full season in the minors will let Pache develop better plate discipline, while also growing into his 6-foot-2 frame. Cutting down on strikeouts, while balancing his power with speed on the bases, should be the primary goals this season. Beginning the season in Double-A Mississippi would also likely give Braves fans a glimpse at two-thirds of their future outfield, pairing Pache with fellow top prospect Drew Waters.
With Nick Markakis re-signing with the team, the outfield appears set for this season. If Markakis struggles and Pache comes out of the gates hot, the youngster could be on his way to Sun Trust Park sooner rather than later. Whether Pache reaches the majors this season or not, it is clear that the future is bright for the youngster as the waves of talent just keep coming for the Braves.
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