When the Atlanta Braves handed Tyler Pastornicky the shortstop job, some around baseball were surprised. There might even have been a few inside the organization who raised an eyebrow and wondered if it was the right move.
Pastornicky had only 27 games in Triple-A last year. He did well, but nothing spectacular caught the attention of scouts who still wonder what his ceiling is in the big leagues.
Yet so far, through the first month of the season, you have to give Pastornicky credit. Hes doing OK for a rookie and has made a position that was a big question mark less of an issue -- at least for now.
There is still skepticism and rightfully so. Im not convinced Pastornicky is going to be the long-term shortstop for the Braves. In spring training, Pastornicky beat out Andrelton Simmons, a player who is off to a fast start in Double-A. Simmons is also an outstanding defensive shortstop. Pastornicky is not.
And that has been the problem. There is no doubt that Pastornicky is not great in the field. A year after having the smooth-fielding Alex Gonzalez, the Braves have a young player trying to not embarrass himself at the position. Pastornicky can make some solid plays, but then he can also turn around and make a play that will make you yearn for Simmons to be called up tomorrow.
But offensively, Pastornicky has been rather decent. As he entered Tuesdays game against Philadelphia, Pastornicky was hitting .262 with a .318 on base percentage, one home run and six RBI in 61 at-bats.
Thats nothing special, by any means, but its not awful either.
The one thing you can credit Pastornicky is his at-bats. Hes not intimidated or overmatched at the plate, and its mainly because he has what they call in the business professional at-bats.
Most rookies come up in their first year and swing away. Theyre impatient and like to swing at anything. Pastornicky, however, is the exact opposite. Hes a patient batter that makes every at bat count.
Thats when Im going good, Pastornicky said. Im never kind of a guy that goes out there and swings at the first pitch a lot. I like to go out there and try to make the pitcher work. Nine times out of 10, the longer the at-bat goes, the more likely hes going to make a mistake.
Its obvious Pastornicky has a plan of attack when he goes to the plate. Thats not only something he brings to the table, but also a strategy of the new hitting coach, Greg Walker. Last year, it seemed the Braves hitters didnt have much of a plan under hitting coach Larry Parrish. But this year, theres no doubt the Atlanta batters are working to have better at-bats.
I think everyone has been grinding at-bats out, Pastornicky said. That definitely helps when you look up in the fifth inning and the starter has 100 pitches. Thats our goal.
Pastornicky admitted hes a nuisance, as he fouls off a lot of pitches and takes pitches in an at-bat.
Youre just trying to get them to leave something over the plate, and when they do you cant miss it, he said.
Pastornicky looked a little scared in the first week of the season. But as the calendar has turned, its obvious hes feeling better as a big leaguer.
The more Im out there playing, the more comfortable Im becoming, Pastornicky said. Ive got a great team around me, and theyre taking a lot of pressure off me and making it easier to play. Thats a big thing. Im having fun out there.
His manager, Fredi Gonzalez, has taken notice.
Hes giving you some tough at-bats, even when he does make an out, Gonzalez said. The more you see the young man, the more comfortable he feels and he looks.
Who knows how long Pastornicky will be the starting shortstop. He might one day become the next Mark DeRosa, which wouldnt be a bad thing. But right now, the young rookie is holding his own in the majors.
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