The dates for pitchers and catchers to report to spring training were released earlier this week. The Braves will begin work on February 18th — five days from today. From there, we will get a better idea of how the Opening Day roster will shape out. Many positions are already set in stone, but there will be several battles to determine the final roster spots. That will be the focus of this series, beginning with centerfield.
Based on the fact that Pache took over centerfield during the playoffs when Adam Duvall went down with a season-ending injury and Ender Inciarte was left off the playoff roster altogether, the starting job is Pache’s to lose. By most lists, Pache is the Braves top prospect — even ahead of Ian Anderson. We currently have him ranked second behind Anderson, but either way his talent is undeniable.
Many believe Pache is already the best defensive centerfielder in the game, even though he barely has any major league experience. He glides across the outfield grass, showcasing incredible range with his instincts and speed. On top of that, he has a gun for an arm, which we saw during his MLB debut in which he nearly hit 100 MPH on a flat-footed throw to home plate. His defense alone makes him a valuable commodity; the offense is just the icing on the cake.
Pache has the potential to wield a plus-bat as well. He recorded an OPS over .800 in between AA-AAA as a 20-year-old, and we saw him smack his first homer in Game 3 of the NLCS last season — a towering blast over the left field wall. He has a .283 average over his minor-league career and should develop into a 20-30 home run guy at the very least.
Pache would have likely taken over the full-time starting job in centerfield midway through last season had it been a 162-game schedule. It’s unfortunate we didn’t get to see more of him, but that will all change this season. This is Pache’s job to lose, and he will have to struggle mightily during spring training to end up starting the year in Gwinnett.
This might not be the only spring training roster battle piece that Inciarte is apart of. Depending on who Alex Anthopoulos adds to the bench, Inciarte could be battling for his spot on the roster altogether. We really might have seen the last of him in a Braves uniform if he doesn’t pull his weight during spring training. If Anthopoulos can’t find a trade partner to move him in a salary dump, he may opt to DFA him.
For Inciarte to win the centerfield job back, he will have to be lights out — both offensively and defensively — in spring training. Even still, it will take Pache struggling for him to start the season as the Opening Day centerfielder.
It seems like a decade ago that Inciarte was the Braves’ lone representative in the All-Star game back in 2017. He hit over .300 that season and was arguably the best defensive centerfielder in the game. Since, his offense has plummeted, resulting in a .190 batting average last season, and his defense has regressed as well. Pache is a better player in all facets. He’s the future of the position, and it’s only a matter of time before he’s starting every day in centerfield.