02/24/12 5:25 PM EST
Future at shortstop is now for Pastornicky
By Mark Bowman / MLB.com
"It's exciting," Pastornicky said. "It's good to see the guys again. I'm ready to go."
There actually is some reason to wonder if Pastornicky is indeed ready for the great opportunity he has been presented. The 22-year-old shortstop has played just 22 games above the Double-A level and his time at the Major League level consisted of the hours he spent sitting on the Braves' bench during last year's regular-season finale against the Phillies.
But with limited outside options and the confidence that either Pastornicky or Andrelton Simmons would be ready for an everyday role by the start of the 2013 season, the Braves determined their best option would be to give Pastornicky the chance to prove he is ready to provide value at the Major League level.
"I'm just looking for him to play the shortstop position and make all of the routine plays," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said. "That is it."
The Braves will be careful to not place any added pressure on Pastornicky, who combined to hit .314 with a .359 on-base percentage and .414 slugging percentage with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett last year. He consistently put the ball in play, striking out 45 times in 512 plate appearances.
"I think we'll see a little more professional at-bats than we did from that position a year ago," Braves general manager Frank Wren said while comparing Pastornicky to the free-swinging Alex-Gonzalez.
Pastornicky is certainly not the defensive wizard Gonzalez was as he handled the shortstop position for the Braves during the past 1 1/2 seasons. Pastornicky committed 26 errors and produced a career-worst .942 fielding percentage in 117 games last year.
But those numbers were produced at the still ripe age of 21, the same age Jack Wilson was when he committed 34 errors and produced an identical .942 fielding percentage as a Cardinals Minor Leaguer. Two years later, Wilson was at the Major League level and establishing himself as one of the game's most reliable and exciting shortstops.
"Every other day he was on [ESPN's] Web Gems, making some kind of sensational play," Pastornicky said while thinking back to his childhood days in the Sarasota, Fla., area.
Now, Wilson is a 34-year-old backup infielder assigned the task of serving as a mentor to Pastornicky. The two developed a bond as they gathered their belongings and prepared for an abrupt start to the offseason after the Braves lost the must-win season finale against the Phillies.
After revealing Pastornicky would begin this season as their starting shortstop, the Braves re-signed Wilson to serve as his backup. Even before this became official, Pastornicky had arranged to spend a week before Spring Training working out at Wilson's house in Camarillo, Calif.
The estate includes a regulation-size infield, weight room and batting cage. So from Saturday through Wednesday, Pastornicky was doing essentially everything he would have been doing had he been among the many Braves position players who reported to camp early.
Pastornicky was the last projected starting position player to report to camp. But he was still certainly on time. The club will hold its first full-squad workout on Saturday afternoon.
"I had no idea everybody was going to show up that early," Pastornicky said. "But it's good. I think it shows a lot about the way the team is feeling. Everybody is ready to go and get it started."
Wilson strained his right calf during Tuesday's workout and will likely be sidelined through at least the regular season's first two weeks. But he said he will continue to push Pastornicky and provide him the kind of advice that he needs as he prepares for his role as a Major League shortstop.
"He's pretty polished," Wilson said. "I'm really excited for his opportunity. He has a great future ahead of him."
When Pastornicky entered this past offseason, he did not know exactly what the future held for him. Now, he simply finds himself preparing to realize the dream he has chased since childhood.
"Last year when I got called up for that day everything was kind of spinning," Pastornicky said. "But it was cool to kind of have the offseason to think about it and let it sink in on you. It's given me some time to relax and get used to it. It's cool. I still have a lot of work to do and nothing is going to be given to me. I've got to go out and play my game."
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.