News broke on Friday afternoon that the Atlanta Braves’ backup shortstop, Jack Wilson, strained his right calf and will miss between 4 and 6 weeks. You can read about the injury at the AJC. Wilson was brought back to the Braves this offseason, after they acquired him in a trade last August. His primary task this year was to spell rookie, Tyler Pastornicky, who has been tabbed as the starting shortstop for this upcoming season. This injury is one that could adversely affect the Braves, more than people may realize.
The biggest question that is looming is what if Pastornicky plays poorly in the Spring? With a healthy Wilson to rely on in this scenario, the Braves would at least have an OK option in an emergency. Jack Wilson isn’t what he used to be, but he isn’t terrible. Much of the discussion throughout the offseason was that Jack Wilson would provide the insurance for Pastornicky.
With Wilson’s injury, however, the pressure has shifted solely onto Pastornicky’s shoulders. Pastornicky is 22 years old and has only had 104 at bats above AA. He injured his ankle and missed the final few weeks of the AAA season last year. His performance at that level was exceptional, though. He posted a solid .365/.407/.413 with 1 HR, 7 SB and 8 BB to 11 Ks.
No one expects Pastornicky to perform at the high level that he did in AAA last season. Truthfully, the expectations for Pastornicky are not that high. The Atlanta Braves started Alex Gonzalez last year and he hit .241/.270/.372 for an OPS of .642 and an OPS + of 76. The one thing Gonzalez had that Pastornicky does not project to have, is power. Gonzalez hit 15 HR last year. Pastornicky does not project to be a power hitter. The other offensive positive that Gonzalez brought to the table was his success against lefties. He hit .267/.287/.438 for an OPS of .725 and an OPS+ of 91.
Pastornicky could not be taking the reigns at a better time. No one is expecting an All Star caliber season out of him. All they really want is good defense and a willingness/ability to get on base more than 27% of the time. If he could do that, the Braves would love him.
Yet, the pressure of being the stated starting shortstop will inevitably put pressure on Pastornicky to perform well. Now that Wilson is hurt, the Braves will be looking at four other possibilities to fill in if needed: Drew Sutton, Josh Wilson, Brandon Hicks and Andrelton Simmons.
Sutton and Wilson were free agent signings this offseason with invitations to Spring Training. Sutton has big league experience and seems to be a sleeper for a spot on the team. You can read an interesting take on him at Capitol Avenue Club. Sutton and Wilson are more back-up/utility type players. If Pastornicky wins the job by putting up a solid spring, they could easily step in and give him a break.
Hicks has been with the team off and on for the past two seasons and has totaled 28 at bats with the team. The thing he has working for him is that he is on the 40 man roster.
The final person that could be a possibility is Andrelton Simmons. He is one of the Braves’ top prospects. He has never played above A ball, but his defense would be one of the tops in the MLB right now. He won a batting title last season and his stock has never been higher than right now. Pastornicky could feed off his presence in Spring Training to work harder, especially because Simmons is considered the future at shortstop by many.
Jack Wilson’s injury is one that cannot be overlooked. The situation in Atlanta is already volatile at shortstop. Hopefully, Wilson will recover quickly and the worst case scenario of Pastornicky struggling will not occur. However, the pressure at shortstop has definitely intensified over the past couple days.
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