Let’s Dream on Cristian Pache

While employed as a beat reporter, one thing I learned from photographers is the virtue of patience. One has to keep paying attention, keep triggering the digital camera’s capture button, or risk missing a memorable moment, the best moment of a career. Photographers are fishing, really. There is no DVR playback in live-image capturing.

Only shaky video from a handheld smartphone captured the moment on Tuesday evening.

If it weren’t for Ashley’s wherewithal to employ her phone’s video option, the world might have missed Cristian Pache’s second professional home run. All those who were not present at SunTrust Park had already missed his first. Each occurred on Tuesday night in Atlanta.

Nowadays it seems everything that happens in major-league baseball is captured by high-definition camera. But the Braves’ final exhibition game against a contingent of their minor leaguers at SunTrust Park on Tuesday night was not televised. It was an exhibition, a final warm-up the club dubbed as the Braves vs. Future Stars. We will have only the oral histories to document what happened. And something remarkable did happen.

No, it wasn’t that real Braves needed a two-run sixth to beat their top prospects by a run, a collection of prospects that included Pache and Ronald Acuna in the outfield together and batting one after the other in the lineup. (Yes, Braves Nation, be excited.) What was remarkable was Pache entered the night with no home runs in 750 minor-league plate appearances or in the 10 occasions he stepped in the right-handed batter’s box in Grapefruit League play this spring.

Pache hit two Tuesday night, each off of a legit arm in Sean Newcomb.

Why does this matter? Pache is potentially the most important swing-changer of the spring.

Hyperbole? Perhaps, but maybe not. While many swing-changers, to date, have been corner-type bats who have been compelled to improve offensive efficiency to remain in the game, that’s not Pache at all. Pache is an elite-level defender and runner. What would happen if that sort of player successfully transformed his swing? He might become a superstar, is what.

No public evaluators were higher on Pache than FanGraphs’ own Kiley McDaniel and Eric Longenhagen, who ranked Pache No. 36 on their preseason top-100 list. (Keith Law is also bullish on Pache, ranking him 57th.)

The question about Pache is his power — and, to a lesser degree, his hit tool.

Pache is almost Byron Buxton in the field. He has an 80 grade on his speed, a 70 on his arm, and Kiley and Eric project the present 70 glove to become an 80. Bobby Cox agrees.

This is what our prospect gurus wrote of Pache back in February:

Pache drew a $1.5 million bonus as a 16-year-old in 2015. He’s a perfect example of the reward in signing a top July 2nd prospect, as his tools have taken a huge step forward since signing: his run grade jumped from 60 to 80, his arm from 60 to 70, his raw power from 45 to 55, while he’s also become arguably the best defender at any position in all of minor-league baseball.

The only issue for Pache is tweaking the mechanics of his swing. He needs to lift the ball more and have a stronger base to tap into some of his power and allow his athleticism to play. These are fixable things, he’s just turned 19, he has plenty of hitting tools to survive until this point on them alone. The Braves rave about his makeup and coachability, while his athleticism would be world class in any sport. With little improvement, he’s a Kevin Pillar two- or three-win type defensive specialist and his upside is a six-plus-win type perennial All-Star.

What intrigued me about their tool grades beyond the athleticism and glove our pair’s assessment of Pache’s raw power: a present power grade of 55 (game power 20/40) for a player who had yet not hit a ball out of a professional ballpark?

While many players develop power as they mature, there are some who never do. Billy Hamilton will never be a power threat, for example. Pache might be, though. The human scouting eye still matters a great deal. A projection system is not going to know about Pache’s swing change. It cannot fully appreciate his athleticism and growth potential. It’s going to see zero home runs in 750 plate appearances.

But Pache has raw power to unlock. He’s a 6-foot-2, 190-pound premium athlete who is only going to become stronger.

And Pache has been working on changing his swing, as Dave O’Brien reported earlier this spring for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

He’s reportedly hitting from a stronger base and trying to hit fewer ground balls. He might have already been making some adjustments, as his GB/FB fell from 3.75 in Rookie ball in 2016 to 1.86 in A-ball last season.

Kiley and Eric suggested Pache could be a six-win player if the power becomes average and the hit tool plays. If Pache becomes a six-win player, imagine that player with Acuna in the Braves outfield for the better part of the next decade.

Pache has been driving the ball better all spring. There just isn’t much video evidence of it.

While Tuesday’s contest was just an exhibition, he still brought power into a game in a way he never had in his professional, albeit brief, career.

While Vladimir Guerrero Jr. did something impossibly awesome Tuesday night, we knew he could hit dingers. We didn’t know if Pache could. Now we know it’s possible. Now the Braves and their fans can really dream.

Okay, okay, it’s early. Get a hold of yourself, Travis. It’s two swings. I get it. But we might be seeing a real skill jump from one of the most interesting prospects in the game this spring. And prospecting is about dreaming, projecting — and Pache remains, arguably, the most interesting prospect in the game to project. Let’s dream a little.

A Cleveland native, FanGraphs writer Travis Sawchik is the author of the New York Times bestselling book, Big Data Baseball. He also contributes to The Athletic Cleveland, and has written for the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, among other outlets. Follow him on Twitter @Travis_Sawchik.

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6 years ago

I’ve been pretty high on Christian Pache since last year. I loved him in spite of his swing, which was kind of funky and complicated at the time. Of course, I was largely high on him because of his elite speed, defense, and athleticism. I was just hoping he could become and elite Center Fielder and terror on the base paths while hovering around a 100 wRC+.
Now, reports of his newly revamped swing mechanics, which adds loft, simplifies his mechanics and allows him to tap into his power has me indulging delusions of grandeur. I’m dreaming on a 2020 Braves lineup that starts:
There are names on that list that could easily go the wrong way, but if they each hit their ceilings, that is a fairly stout lineup.

6 years ago
Reply to  v2micca

I suspect Inciarte is traded if Pache is up in 2020, unless Pache’s bat makes an insane evolution to be able to play in a corner.

If you add some prospects to Inciarte, he becomes insanely valuable on the trade market, maybe to add a big-time power bat for LF, a 3B if Riley doesn’t work out (or they don’t sign Machado), or an elite young C if none of the prospects there pan out.

6 years ago
Reply to  a5ehren

The Braves aren’t signing Machado or Donaldson. I’m indulging delusions of grandeur, not absurdity. I’m thinking maybe they make a serious run at a Dallas Keuchel, or an Andrew Miller. But there is no way they outbid the big boys for the top Free Agents.

6 years ago
Reply to  v2micca

I think the Braves are going to go hard after Harper. I don’t think they’ll get him, but I think they’ll put forward a serious package that at least warrants consideration. Given the youth and talent on the team and consequent potential to contend for many years, along with a city with a good standard of living and less taxes than some of the other suitor locations, I think they at least have a dark horse chance at signing him. They’ll probably be in a tier of teams with a legitimate but small chance to get him just below the tier of something like three teams with a good chance to get him.

6 years ago
Reply to  JEdward

Do you really think a guy about to sign a $400 million deal cares about what his property taxes are going to be? He’ll spend all his tax savings on gas money to drive to a ballpark that was built in the middle of nowhere

6 years ago
Reply to  jbormann

Yes, otherwise he’d have an agent talking about a $250MM deal.

6 years ago
Reply to  v2micca

I doubt it as well, but they’ll have something like $60M in free payroll next year. It isn’t as crazy as you think.

6 years ago
Reply to  a5ehren

The Braves have 38 million in committed payroll next year. they’ll have quite a bit more than 60m free.

6 years ago
Reply to  fastatlast

With arbitration raises and such, they’ll have around $80 million committed. So $60 million or so is probably close.

6 years ago
Reply to  JEdward

Nah, you’re overestimating. Most of the Braves are not getting much in arbitration. Pretty much the only guy getting anything substantial would be Arodys Vizcaino. Everyone else is either pre-arb, early arb or not very good.

plus, the $43 million figure assumes they pick up McCarthy’s option (likely given it’s only $8 mil, but not a sure thing). Also Teheran or Vizcaino could easily get traded. So $80 million available is probably closer, and it could go higher than that.