This time last year, a 20-year-old Cristian Pache was just a month removed from a solid performance in the minor league playoffs, hitting .384 with a grand slam and seven RBI in four games as a pivotal leader of the Braves Triple-A squad, the Gwinnett Stripers. The organization’s top prospect was coming off a career 2019 campaign in which everything seemed to come together for him at the plate, shown by a combined 113 wRC+ and 12 home runs in 130 games at the two highest levels of the minors. Before COVID struck earlier this year, the 2020 season was set to feature not just more gains at the plate but potentially an MLB debut for Pache.
Well, thanks to a global pandemic and the cancelation of the minor league season, Pache’s big year didn’t exactly materialize quite as intended.
The Braves debut did come, though. In late August, Pache got his first start as a big leaguer, and though it wasn’t a Jason Heyward type debut, the toolsy Dominican succeeded in recording his first hit in a 1 for 4 effort versus the Phillies at Truist Park. However, as far as playing time goes, that lone start was about it. Pache entered as a defensive substitute the very next day but didn’t receive a plate appearance, and he’ll have to wait until 2021 to add to his stats. For now, Pache will settle for a career .250 AVG in the majors.
But just because Pache wasn’t able to get in a full season’s worth of development in 2020 doesn’t mean this year has been a waste. Through eight postseason games so far, Pache has been right in the middle of the action with the Braves:
- NLWCS + NLDS – played in all five games, entering in the later innings as a pinch-runner and defensive replacement in right field. Caught two fly balls in Game 3 of DS against Miami (no errors).
- NLCS / GM1 – Entered in the second inning for an injured Adam Duvall. Went 0 for 3 with two walks, including an eight-pitch walk in his first AB after replacing Duvall with an 0-2 count. Struck out once. Played seven innings in center field and caught three fly balls (no errors).
- NLCS / GM2 – started in center field. Went 1 for 5 with a double, an RBI, and a run. Struck out once. Caught five fly balls in center field (no errors).
- NLCS / GM3 – started in center field. Went 1 for 4 with a HR.
Sure, Wednesday night’s rout by the Dodgers in Game 3 was excruciating to watch, but one of the biggest takeaways for me was just how comfortable Pache has looked this postseason as a big leaguer. He’s only hitting .200 right now, and batting ninth every game probably isn’t going to allow for many opportunities to knock in runs at the plate. However, his performance has been impressive so far.
And it’s not just his ability to lay off pitches out of the zone, either (as we saw against Walker Buehler on Monday). Pache may have only recorded one hit Wednesday, but he put the ball in play in every one of his at-bats. And as you can see, based on his exit-velocity figures from Baseball Savant, he was getting his money’s worth every time:
- 3rd inning – home run (103.1 MPH)
- 5th inning – ground out (69.9 MPH)
- 7th inning – line out (92.2 MPH)
- 9th inning – ground out (99.1 MPH)
All-in-all, the kind of on-the-job experience Pache is getting right now is priceless, and considering he’s likely a starter in the outfield next season, it’s great to see that he’s already holding his own against major league pitching. We knew the glove was ready, and we suspected the bat was too, but it’s exciting to see it all come together before our eyes on national television against perhaps the best team in baseball.
Hopefully, the Braves can bounce back from such an embarrassing loss because that’s two record-breaking blow-ups in the first inning in just the last two seasons. However, World Series appearance or not, the organization’s top talent looks to be primed for a big rookie season in 2021. And that alone makes this NLCS that much more special.
Watch Cristian Pache's first career homer. pic.twitter.com/NJHBCmaeZP
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) October 14, 2020