Braves: When will Cristian Pache make his MLB debut?

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When Cristian Pache makes his major league debut, it will be the most highly anticipated instance in Atlanta since Ronald Acuna Jr.’s back in 2018. He has seen a big-time rise as a prospect, ranking as high as the fifth-best prospect in the game on Keith Law’s 2020 list, and he is getting closer and closer to the big leagues by the day.

Pache is already viewed as perhaps the best defensive centerfielder in the Braves’ system, and yes, that includes 3-time Gold Glove Award winner Ender Inciarte. As far as his offensive game goes, it is all about projectability. When Pache first came up, he was very thin and did not hit a single home run until his third season down on the farm. While he could afford to pick up more free passes, he has always flashed a solid contact bat.

Now, Pache has undergone a body transformation, and while he does not steal bags as he did in his early days in the system, he still shows his incredible speed in the field and has started to translate this transformation into power. In 2019, he posted his first OPS over .800, emerging as a two-way player, and got his first taste of AAA ball. The hope is that he can be an elite center fielder, and perhaps add 20+ homers with the bat.

The gloomy news for Pache is that the Braves already have a very deep outfield. They replaced Josh Donaldson’s bat by bringing in Marcell Ozuna and are holding an open competition at third base between Austin Riley and Johan Camargo. Ender Inciarte and Ronald Acuna Jr. return as incumbent starters, and the team has two former All-Stars as reserves in Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall. On top of that, Pache is competing with another top outfield prospect in Drew Waters, who could get the nod before Pache if he outperforms him since they were promoted to AAA at the same time. Austin Riley could also end up playing a role in the outfield if Camargo wins the third base job and holds onto it. Needless to say, there are a lot of variables here.

Pache also still has just 26 games and 95 at-bats under his belt in AAA, and while he held his own, he could benefit from more playing time at the level. He is still just 21 years old and needs at least half a season to continue to develop on the farm.

Predicting Pache’s debut is difficult because it is going to boil down to his performance. If he has a breakout season of sorts, Ender Inciarte may arguably be the most replaceable positional starter on the roster. With that being said, it is going to take quite the impression for the Braves to bench Inciarte or ship him out of town. If Inciarte struggles like he did to start last season, or deals with another injury, that could open things up for Pache. Even then, Brian Snitker has the option of playing the splits and platooning Nick Markakis and Adam Duvall. The Braves do value defense tremendously, however, which could help build a base to promote Pache.

There are a lot of variables to take into account, but I will go ahead and guarantee that Pache will be promoted in September of this year if not earlier. Now, remember, the rules have changed, and the MLB has capped teams only to allow two extra roster spots when they expand in September. However, the Braves will most definitely want to get a look at what Pache can accomplish against some big-league pitching. With Marcell Ozuna and Nick Markakis set to hit free agency after the season, it will be in the team’s best interest to evaluate their options. Not to mention, if you only have two spots available, you may as well let your top prospect occupy one of them.

Hopefully, Pache will respond well to major league pitching when he gets his chance, but in the small sample size we have seen from him in the past, there is no reason to think he is not capable. He is 5-for-18 this Spring Training and has already stolen a few bags. In 67 career Spring at-bats, Pache has hit .313 with a .860 OPS. In an exhibition between the big league club and some select minor leaguers back in 2018, he took Sean Newcomb deep two times.

Pache’s future with the team almost seems accounted for, but things are looking murky for him in 2020. Assuming he continues to progress the way he has, we should at least get a taste of him in 2020. Perhaps he gets just a handful of September at-bats, but gun to my head, I would not rule out him supplanting Ender Inciarte by playoff time whatsoever.

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