Cristian Pache is the Braves’ #1 overall prospect, ahead of a guy like Ian Anderson, who already has had plenty of success at the major-league level. That should tell you all you need to know about the kind of potential scouts believe the 22-year-old Dominican centerfielder has. Many have been comparing him to a young Andruw Jones, which is almost unfair given all Jones accomplished in a Braves uniform. However, Pache held his own when forced into action during last year’s NLCS, recording four hits, his first major-league homer, and four RBIs in 22 at-bats, leading many to believe he was ready to take over the reins in center field to begin the 2021 campaign.
I didn’t hear a single person suggest that Pache should begin the season in the minors, but I was a bit disappointed Alex Anthopoulos didn’t bring in a backup plan. No matter how highly rated a prospect is, it can sometimes take a little while for them to get their feet wet in the majors and find success; just look at another former top prospect in Austin Riley. Not every young player comes in and has immediate success like Ronald Acuna and Ozzie Albies. In fact, those two are anomalies rather than the norm. It’s typical for young prospects to struggle once they reach the majors, especially those who have only 26 games in AAA under their belt.
That’s right, Pache didn’t receive his promotion to Gwinnett in 2019 until the last month of the season. He certainly deserved it, and he did have some early success with the Stripers, hitting .274 with eight doubles and a homer in those 26 games, but that’s still quite a jump after so few games — even if he was a part of the team’s alternate training site in 2020.
Pache’s offense has never been what’s excited scouts. It has been his 70-80 grade defense that has many believing he’s a prospect that cannot bust. So far, he’s been serviceable in that area, recording 0.1 dWAR; however, no amount of defensive success can currently make up for his slumping bat.
Through 19 games this season (56 at-bats), Pache is hitting an unsightly .107. He’s struck out 23 times compared to just two walks, and his OPS is a measly .349. What’s even worse is his OPS+ is a -8. Keep in mind that a 100 OPS+ is league average and every point below that mark means a player is 1% below league average. That means Pache is currently 108% below league average. Frankly, until this writing, I didn’t even know that was possible; that’s how bad he’s been with the stick through the first month of the season.
In no way am I giving up on Pache’s long-term potential. I think he has a fantastic chance of becoming an All-Star caliber player — he’s that talented. However, as of now, the numbers aren’t lying, and the eye test doesn’t look any better. Perhaps the Braves give him a little more time, but it certainly looks like he can use a couple of months back in AAA to find a groove offensively. Ender Inciarte is currently rehabbing from a hamstring injury in Gwinnett, and Orlando Arcia already has five homers for the Stripers through just one week. It seems about time to see what those two can do while Pache spends some more time developing in the minors.
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