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.)
For those asking, Kyle Muller hit 97 last night on scouts guns as well, worked mostly 94-97. And as if the results weren’t enough evidence, Cristian Pache has made a swing change.
— Kiley McDaniel (@kileymcd) March 28, 2018
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.
When Bobby Cox was discussing his team of prospects for tonight, Cristian Pache got extreme praise for his defense. Bobby called Pache "one of the most dynamic defensive players I've ever seen." That's some high praise. Because it's not hyperbole. The kid is very good. #Braves
— Grant McAuley (@grantmcauley) March 28, 2018
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.
— FOX Sports: Braves (@FOXSportsBraves) March 28, 2018
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.