When Tyler Pastornicky took the field as the Braves starting shortstop on opening day in 2012, many Braves fans thought they were looking at their shortstop of the future. The steady-fielding Pastornicky won the big league job after a strong Spring Training proved that he was more major league ready than the alternative in Andrelton Simmons. Fredi Gonzalez and the rest of his staff knew that Pastornicky would not provide any substantial pop at the bottom of the order, and while his speed would be considered below average for a middle infielder, there was no denying that Pastornicky could flat out field. So why not take the trade off of an offensive juggernaut for a defensive specialist? The rest of the offense could pick up the slack, right?
Well…maybe not. Pastornicky spent the first two months of the 2012 season struggling mightily, both at the plate and in the field, leaving Gonzalez desperate for some production. After accumulating a .262 batting average through the month of April, Pastornicky’s already vacant offensive presence took a nosedive, resulting in a .238 average for the month of May. With the Braves dropping 9 of their final 12 games in May, it became clear to everyone involved that it was time to make a change. Atlanta optioned Pastornicky to Triple A, where he would stay for the better part of two months. By the time Pastornicky returned to Turner Field in July, the Braves were rolling towards a postseason appearance, and Pastornicky’s responsibility had dwindled to a late-inning defensive replacement.
Now were just under one year removed from Pastornicky’s MLB debut and things could not have changed more. Andrelton Simmons established himself as a more than serviceable shortstop in 2012 and is even expected to spend 2013 as the Braves leadoff man, while Pastornicky must again enter Spring Training as a candidate for one of the few remaining spots on the big league roster. So where does he go from here? It is hard to see a scenario where Pastornicky logs any significant playing time as a member of the Braves in the coming years, but there’s no reason why Atlanta can’t use his slick fielding talent off the bench as a utility infielder. After using a pinch hitter for Simmons or one of Atlanta’s third base options late in the game, Pastornicky is the perfect option to fill a hole for the 8th or 9th innings. And don’t forget about possibility of injury and sickness. There will inevitably be days when Simmons or Uggla can’t play or need a day off. Without Martin Prado in the mix for 2013, Pastornicky might provide a similar blend of versatility and consistency as the fan favorite Prado.
But at just 23, is it too early to relegate Pastornicky to utility duty? Could he benefit from a year or two more in the minor leagues and eventually provide the Braves with good infield depth or trade bait in the future? You can almost count on Pastornicky wanting to make a change when he becomes arbitration eligible in 2016 if his status with the Braves hasn’t improved. So when is the right time to make a decision on him?
The 2013 season could prove to be a big one for Pastornicky in terms of his role on a major league roster. If Pastornicky continues to struggle with the MLB appearances that he is given, the Braves might be forced to look elsewhere for options off the bench. But if 2013 proves to be Pastornicky’s coming out party in terms of offensive consistency, there is reason to think that he could be in the mix as the everyday second basemen at the end of Dan Uggla’s contract in 2016.