With Spring Training coming to a close this weekend, the question on many Atlanta Braves fans is who will be the starting shortstop on Opening Day for 2012? It has been a two horse race for this spot through the Spring, though it was assumed coming into Spring Training that it was one man’s to lose. After the 2011 season, Tyler Pastornicky was labeled as the incumbent shortstop taking over for the departing Alex Gonzalez. The Braves invited their top shortstop prospect, Andrelton Simmons to camp to essentially getting his feet wet. Simmons has wowed coaches, scouts and teammates with his defensive abilities at short. What has happened is that it has cast doubt within the minds of the coaches that maybe Simmons should jump from A ball all the way to the majors.
Pastornicky started slowly this spring. He made three quick errors, but also started the spring in a terrible slump. He went 5-42 (.119 avg) to start the spring, which raised many doubts and gave Simmons a window to create more buzz and a chorus of supporters. Pastornicky and hitting coach, Greg Walker, both confirmed that he was trying to do too much early on in the spring. In Walker’s words:
“Even when he was scuffling, we weren’t changing anything,” hitting coach Greg Walker said. “He got into a few little bad habits, most of it caused by being sped up. He was just pressing; you can’t play the game like that. It’s hard to get out of, because what do you tell them? ‘Don’t do it?’
“That at-bat he had pinch-hitting against Washington [March 21], he got a base hit and that was a great at-bat. I knew after that, or I felt like after that, that he’d be ready to compete now. He just wasn’t giving himself a chance early in camp.”
Pastornicky has responded well since the game Walker mentioned. He is now 9 for his last 17 ABs for a .529/.529/.647 line since March 21. He has played better defense and has still made only the three errors. He has seemed much more comfortable and confident over the past week. He has hit .233/.242/.267 for the Spring.
Pastornicky has undoubtedly benefited by Simmons struggles of late. Simmons started off going 3-8 this spring, but has since gone 5-36. Overall, he is hitting .186/.271/.233 this spring.
David O’Brien from the AJC wrote an article about the battle and had some interesting quotes from Fredi Gonzalez. Here is what Gonzalez said about the battle:
“And you know what, how many guys are sent down – we could start with one in April and if he doesn’t do the job, the other guy can come back up. And maybe it’s the last time he goes down in his career. It’s one of those things, it’s not like whoever doesn’t make it, your career is over.”
“Whoever we choose, I think we have enough [offense elsewhere in the lineup] that you don’t have to worry about them hitting .270 or .280,” Gonzalez said. “Just go out there and play, make sure you get the signs, get the bunt down, get the hit-and-run, and don’t worry about trying to so something offensively. I’m more worried about defensively, with our pitching staff. Those guys throw a lot of groundballs. So…”
When someone pointed out that Simmons had no experience above A-ball, Gonzalez said: “But he’s two months older [than Pastornicky]. The other guy has played a little higher level, but how much more? How many more games? Tyler’s played a little bit of Double-A and a little bit of Triple-A.”
Pastornicky has 128 games (555 plate appearances) in Double-A and 27 games (117 plate appearances) in Triple-A.
When someone pointed out that Pastornicky had more than twice as many minor-league games and plate appearances than Simmons, Gonzalez said: “Right, but the other guy has won the batting title, so… There’s a lot of stuff.”
It sure seems like Gonzalez is leaning toward Simmons from his quotes. He loved the defense that Alex Gonzalez provided last year. Game after game of little to no offense provided, Fredi Gonzalez would sing praises about A. Gonzalez and his defense.
If it comes down to defense and runs saved, then Simmons will win the job. If it comes down to offensive readiness and experience, then Pastornicky will win the job.
Truthfully, I believe Gonzalez when he said whoever starts the season will not necessarily finish the season at the position.
So, what do you think the Braves should do?