The coronavirus has impacted everyone across the globe in some capacity, but few were affected as harshly as minor league players. Thousands of prospects lost their jobs when Minor League Baseball opted to cancel the season, and some even lost the opportunity to achieve their dream altogether. The lucky ones were able to land a spot on each organization’s 60-man taxi squad, where at the very least, they will collect a paycheck. However, given the circumstances, all 60 players need to be ready at a moment’s notice because a string of positive tests could force the most unlikely candidate into action.
Cristian Pache, the Braves top prospect, is far from the most unlikely candidate. Had the 2020 season gone on as planned, he would have made his debut at some point. However, that may not be as conceivable with only 60 games on the docket in this shortened campaign and many outfield options for the Braves to choose from.
Like his buddy and #2 prospect, Drew Waters, Pache spent most of last year in AA, where he hit a more than respectable .278 with 11 homers, 8 triples, and 28 doubles while also being regarded as the best defensive prospect in all of baseball. Both top prospects received the call to AAA for the final month of the season, but it was Pache that seemed to handle the promotion much better. While his power numbers took a slight dip, he still racked up 10 extra-base hits in just 26 games while posting a .274 batting average and avoiding a bunch of strikeouts.
Pache carried that momentum into Spring Training 1.0, where he received 26 at-bats before the season came to a screeching halt. He had seven hits (.269 average), including two home runs and a triple, resulting in seven RBIs. He did strike out eleven times — the fifth-most on the team — but his continued progression in the strength department has become undeniable.
Pache did not hit his first professional home run until 2018. That year, he totaled nine of them between Florida and Mississippi. Last season, he upped that number to 12 between Mississippi and Gwinnett, and he already looks significantly stronger this year. In his first at-bat of Spring Training 2.0, Pache took a hanging slider from Josh Tomlin and nearly hit it through the left-field wall for a double. Based sheerly on his size, he looks ready to contribute at the major-league level tomorrow if they needed him, and it may not be long before they decide they do.
Ender Inciarte will begin the year as the starting center fielder, as he should. However, his inconsistencies with the bat are well-documented. In a sixty-game season, the Braves cannot afford for him to hit in the low .200’s with little to no power. If that is all they are going to get, they might as well see if Pache can give them anything more with the stick. At the very least, it will give their top prospect a look at some live action along with some much-needed experience heading into 2021.
It is understandable for organizations to be hesitant with their prospects, ensuring that they do not call them up too early, leading to confidence issues in the future. However, some players can make those jumps without missing a beat. Based on what we have seen from Pache at every level of the minors and during the past two Spring Trainings, he certainly looks like one of those rare prospects. I would not say it is a foregone conclusion that he makes his MLB debut this season, but he is one injury or slump away from being in Atlanta for good.