In the first game yesterday, the Braves started Ender Inciarte in center field for the first time since Brian Snitker hinted that Adam Duvall would be taking his place more times than not, even against right-handed pitching. The reasoning for that was understandable. It was Game 1 of a doubleheader against a pitcher Inciarte’s had a lot of success against over his career. However, he was unable to take advantage, producing multiple of his patented lazy ground balls to the right side.
It hasn’t even been three weeks, but Inciarte’s offensive woes are a reason for concern because this is an issue that’s been ongoing since 2018. He offers very little in the power department; his slugging percentage sits below .400 for his career, and in the last three seasons, his average hasn’t been there either. Inciarte hit .265 in 2018, which dropped to below .250 last year, and through 14 games this season, he’s hitting well below the Mendoza line.
As I’ve said plenty of times over the last week or so, the advanced stats aren’t suggesting this will get much better either. Inciarte’s still in the bottom 1% of hard-hit percentage, bottom 8% of xSLG, bottom 18% of xwOBA, and bottom 13% xBA. Simply put, he’s one of the worst bats in the majors. The only reason Inciarte’s still in the bigs is because of his defense, which is exquisite, to be fair. That might be enough to keep him on the Braves roster for the remainder of the season, but Alex Anthopoulos does have a worthy defensive replacement if he decides to pull the trigger.
Cristian Pache, the #1 prospect in the Braves farm system and #14 overall — according to MLB.com’s rankings— is also regarded as the best defensive prospect in baseball and happens to play center field. Many believe that he is just as good if not better defensively than Ender Inciarte right now, and we’ve seen a glimpse of that over the last couple of Spring Trainings.
Offensively, Pache offers exponentially more upside. While he wasn’t originally a power hitter, he’s grown into his 6’2″ frame and had 12 homers, 9 triples, and 36 doubles in 130 games between AA-AAA last season. Sure strikeouts have been a bit of an issue. He had 122 in 2019, and that problem would likely become even more apparent once he makes it to the majors. But frankly, it can’t get much worse offensively than Inciarte right now.
At the very least, this would give Pache some valuable experience heading into 2021, when he projects to be a full-time starter in Atlanta.
There are arguments to be made against bringing up Pache. After all, he only has 26 games of AAA experience, and in that span, his OPS was just .747. It may not be wise to rush him to the majors in a shortened season when he hasn’t played a live game in a month, risking his confidence for future years.
With that said, Pache doesn’t strike me as a player lacking confidence. He’s had no problem; in fact, he’s thrived when playing against major league competition in Spring Training. Pache could provide another boost to an already loaded offense, and the Braves need all the run support they can get, given their concerns regarding the starting rotation.
Maybe Pache isn’t the answer in 2020. That very well may be the case, and he winds up back in Gwinnett camp before the end of the season. But we don’t know that yet. What we do know is that Ender Inciarte is not the answer. I’m not sure how much longer Brian Snitker can keep sending him out there for starts, and if he isn’t starting, he’s worth nothing off the bench. I imagine Alex Anthopoulos is thinking long and hard about his spot on the roster, and Pache might be the next in line, providing that he has fully recovered from the ankle injury he suffered after the restart of the season.