03/27/12 5:52 PM ET
Braves' starting shortstop battle wide open
Choice between Pastornicky, Simmons could come down to wire
By David Villavicencio / Special to MLB.com
That is the question that everyone seems to be asking in Braves camp as the two young infielders are battling for the right to be the starting shortstop.
"It may come down all the way to the end," manager Fredi Gonzalez said.
The Braves' baseball staff will meet Wednesday to discuss their roster, and Pastornicky and Simmons are sure to cause a lot of debate.
"It's not going to be easy, but that's what you want," Gonzalez said. "You don't want it to be so lopsided that it's not going to be a two-hour meeting."
Both players have made their case for why they should get the job. Simmons has been an outstanding defender while hitting .205 over 13 games this spring. Pastornicky has been solid defensively and has hit safely in five of his last six games to bring his average up to .220.
While those offensive numbers are not very impressive, Gonzalez believes his shortstop will not be expected to be an offensive force this season.
"Whoever we choose, I think we have enough offense that they don't have to worry and you don't have to worry about them hitting .290," Gonzalez said. "Just go out there and play, make sure you get the signs right and get the bunt down, hit-and-run or whatever we ask. I'm more worried about defensively with our pitching staff, because those guys throw a lot of ground balls."
Another shortstop option the Braves could explore is veteran Jack Wilson. The slick-fielding Wilson will be the backup to either Pastornicky or Simmons and could see a lot of time at shortstop should the starter struggle. But more importantly, the veteran can give both rookies some help as they adjust to playing in the big leagues.
"That was the reason we wanted him," Gonzalez said. "He could be a mentor to Pastornicky and Simmons and give those guys a day off or a couple of days off and you don't lose anything defensively. He's a guy that you feel comfortable hit-and-running with and bunting. He's not going to hit 20 homers, but you can do a lot of stuff with him offensively."
Wilson knows the value of learning from a veteran. He learned from former Pirates shortstop Pat Meares while the two were teammates in Pittsburgh, and now he sees the chance to help a young teammate the same way Meares helped him.
"They're in big league camp, so they're doing something right if they're here," Wilson said. "I'm just there to help them if I see something, but most of the time, I just let them come to me because I am respectful of the talent that they have already. It's something they have to ask for. You don't want to step on their toes because you've done it before. I just want to help them any way I can."
Pastornicky sees the value of learning from Wilson and the rest of the veterans on the Braves. As a 22-year-old, he knows the older players are filled with advice on how to handle the different struggles a player may face in a season.
"I'm getting the opportunity to learn from them and pick their brains," Pastornicky said. "I've been trying to learn from everyone to see if what they say works for me. I think that's the key to learning how to get through bad situations. They've been through it before, so anything I can learn from them is good."
After entering camp as the favorite to win the job, Pastornicky admitted to being a bit nervous with all of the expectations that surrounded him. But his nerves have calmed over time, and he feels like he will only get better as the regular season approaches.
"I think, early on, I was a little nervous and the pressure was getting to me a bit," Pastornicky said. "I think, as a young kid, that's to be expected a little bit. I think that I coped with it well. I've been playing better, and hopefully, I can do a lot to help this team. I can make the routine plays and make some contact at the plate. Anything that I can do as far as bunting, stealing, taking an extra base, hit-and-run -- anything I can do to help offensively is what I will try to do."
Gonzalez believes both players are about even in the competition. He admits a decision is far from being made at this point. He also believes that the decision could change should the first choice struggle early.
"We could start with one in April, and if he doesn't do the job, then the other guy comes back up," Gonzalez said. "It's not going to be one of those things that whoever doesn't make it, their career is over forever."
After getting to know both players over the spring, Gonzalez is confident that they will handle whatever decision the Braves make professionally.
"Whichever one we choose, I think the other guy is going to be fine," Gonzalez said. "And if he's not fine, then we've got the wrong guy. There's going to be adversity in your career, and if that's going to derail you, then we've got a wrong person in our organization. I feel strongly that those two guys mentally are quality guys that should be able to handle it."
David Villavicencio is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.