Tyler Pastornicky and Andrelton Simmons have been competing for the starting job at shortstop for the Atlanta Braves. When the Braves break camp and head north to face the New York Mets on Thursday, it looks like Pastornicky's name will be on the line-up card.
Pastornicky came into spring training as the leading candidate for the starting job. His slow start coupled with Simmons' dazzling defensive plays gave Simmons the edge at the beginning of spring training. However, Simmons' recent slump and a strained left side have reduced his chances. Pastornicky's bat has heated up lately as well, with a .375 batting average since March 21. He went 1-for-2 with a single and three walks in Sunday's game.
While both players could use more seasoning in the minors, Pastornicky has more experience. He has played in 155 games and has 672 plate appearances above the Class A level, whereas Simmons has never played above Class A.
“Whichever one we choose, I think the other guy is going to be fine," manager Fredi Gonzalez said. “And if he’s not fine, then we got the wrong guy. Because there’s going to be adversities in major league seasons and careers, if that’s going to derail you then we got the wrong person in our organization. I feel strongly that those two guys mentally are quality guys who should be able to handle it."
Gonzalez was very candid about the shortstop battle. The Braves have the flexibility of sending the starter down to the minors if he struggles and calling up the other player.
“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," Gonzalez said. "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.”
Pastornicky's recent offensive surge has enabled him to feel more comfortable and confident, which is extremely important in a young player out to prove himself.
“I think I got a little more comfortable the last [two weeks],” Pastornicky said. “Really nothing mechanical I changed or anything, just kind of a confident feeling. Definitely feeling better in the field and feeling better at the plate. Overall just feeling more like myself and able to go out there and play my game.”
In light of their recent performances and the experience factor, it seems that Pastornicky is the front-runner for the starting job. The player who doesn't win the competition will likely be sent to Triple-A Gwinnett. As for Pastornicky, he received a ringing endorsement from hitting coach Greg Walker.
“I like it a lot,” Walker said of Pastornicky's swing. “It’s pretty solid. Even when he was scuffling there was nothing to work on. I’ve gone into seasons with kids that were given jobs and knew from the first day we were going to be working on mechanics. With him that was not the case.
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