Bill Shanks: Braves had to change shortstops

sports@macon.comMay 31, 2012 

In spring training, most people thought this would be inevitable. The odds that Tyler Pastornicky was going to make it for the full year as the starting shortstop for the Atlanta Braves were long. It just didn’t seem like he had a chance at all to survive this situation.

First, let’s make this clear. Pastornicky can be a major leaguer. Chances are he can be a solid utility man. But not many ever thought Pastornicky would be a starter in the big leagues. And it was hard to find anyone in spring training that truly believed Pastornicky was going to succeed as the starter this year.

But the Braves didn’t have much of a choice. The finances weren’t there to go sign a stopgap veteran to play until either Pastornicky or Andrelton Simmons were ready. Blame Liberty Media, the joke of an ownership group, for this debacle more than anyone.

Pastornicky really should have never been forced to the big leagues with limited time in Triple-A. He was a player that needed Triple-A, just to see more so that a better evaluation could be made. Instead, because of limited funds to sign what was really needed, Pastornicky was forced to do something he really couldn’t do.

The problem is Pastornicky is probably not even a shortstop. His arm is limited. His range is limited. His instincts are poor. He’s probably going to look at lot better if he plays some at second base (and that’s one of a few positions he’ll play in Gwinnett).

Sure, Pastornicky did OK at the plate. Not great, but OK for a rookie. He hit .248 and had a poor OBP of .281. Truthfully, that was better than some believed he’d do. He’s got some offensive skills, but it still was not very good.

The problem, though, was his defense. When Tim Hudson, a groundball pitcher, had to have Jack Wilson as his designated starting shortstop, you knew something wasn’t right. Pitchers, particularly struggling pitchers like the Braves’ guys now, can’t afford a leaky infield.

Plus, with Chipper Jones out, they’ve occasionally had Juan Francisco at third base. When Francisco was at third and Pastornicky was at shortstop, the defense on the left side of the field was atrocious. That could not continue. That’s why, to compliment the promotion of Simmons, you’ll probably see more of Martin Prado at third base moving forward with Chipper out.

Simmons is going to make a dramatic difference in the field. He’s got an outstanding arm and great range. He’s a shortstop, so his instincts are solid. He’s pretty much got everything Pastornicky did not have at the position.

Simmons got 200 plate appearances in Double-A, and he made the most of that opportunity. He made this decision easier by doing well at the plate in Mississippi. He hit .292 with a .372 on base percentage, along with three home runs, 21 RBI and 10 stolen bases.

Who knows what he can do at the plate in the major leagues. He’ll probably have his struggles, but don’t expect those struggles to carry over to his work in the field. This is a kid that some teams wanted as a pitcher when he was drafted two years ago, so the arm alone will improve the defense at shortstop.

The Braves were able to get through two months with Pastornicky as the starting shortstop. It was starting to be noticed by everyone that he was a liability, and it’s in a way amazing his poor defense did not hurt the team more than it did. But there wasn’t much confidence that good luck would continue.

When Pastornicky made the play on Saturday when he flipped the ball behind his back, only to have second baseman Dan Uggla not realize it was coming, everyone around the team cringed. Those were the sorts of plays they’ve worried about.

That’s why the Braves had to do this. They had to make a change. The team will be better for it, and while he probably doesn’t think so now, Pastornicky will as well. Everyone liked Tyler, but you can bet the pitchers in particular are happy someone else will be roaming around at shortstop.

 

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at www.foxsports1670.com.  Email Bill at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

 

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