There have been quite a few mixed signals out of Atlanta thus far during the offseason, but one thing is clear from all parties involved: short of something bizarre taking place, Tyler Pastornicky will be starting at shortstop for the Braves in 2012.
Pastornicky, for those unaware, is a 22-year old shortstop who was acquired along with Alex Gonzalez in the deal that sent Yunel Escobar to Toronto. He was selected in the fifth round of the 2008 draft out of a Florida high school. After spending multiple years with the Blue Jays in the lower levels of the Minor Leagues, he spent 2011 splitting time between Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett with the Braves.
Playing shortstop in primarily every game -- there were once concerns that he may turn into a second baseman or utility player -- he batted .314/.359/.414 in 117 games. After getting off to a stellar start at Gwinnett, an ankle injury held him out of action in the last few weeks of the season. Pastornicky does not hit for much power, although he has potential to steal some bases after swiping 27 out of 38 in 2011.
There is no denying that, statistically speaking, Pastornicky appears to be ready for the Major Leagues. Is he ready to handle the job every day in Atlanta in just four months? Maybe. He does make the most sense for the club, though.
The Braves do not have a lot of spending money at the moment and the team may still be looking for an impact bat for left field. Should they have pursued Reyes, Rollins or Furcal on the free agent market, the club would have been outbid. And if they pursued a lesser free agent, they likely would have overpaid, especially with shortstops being such a hot commodity on the open market right now.
Short of a general manager losing his mind, there would be very few suitable shortstops on the trade market. Fans can dream about prying Hanley Ramirez away from the Marlins or Starlin Castro away from the Cubs, but that is highly unlikely, if not impossible. Teams hold onto their shortstops and seldom move them in a trade.
This brings us back to Tyler Pastornicky. Atlanta could elect to go after one of the remaining (cheaper) veteran shortstops through free agency to serve as a stop-gap, but that seems like a waste of money at this point. Anything the club spends now detracts from the funds to acquire or sign a left fielder, which is something that makes a ton of sense for the Braves. Pastornicky probably outperforms any of the remaining options, anyway.
There are plenty of concerns and risks that coincide with handing the starting shortstop job to an unproven rookie. His offensive production should not be too much of a concern, especially with TP likely batting eighth in the lineup, but an unsound defensive shortstop can be disastrous for a ball club. Most scouting reports view him as average in the field in terms of range, with not much of an arm. With two clunkers in Chipper Jones and Dan Uggla flanking him to the left and right, things could get ugly if Pastornicky struggles defensively.
Should the team elect to begin the season with Pastornicky, they will be doing so with eyes wide open and a capable backup needs to be acquired between now and the start of Spring Training.
All of these concerns aside, it is becoming obvious that the best option for the Braves is to pencil Pastornicky in as their every day shortstop in 2012. There may be a few hiccups along the way, but the kid has a bright future with the organization. He makes the most sense out of any of the remaining options, and if everything goes to plan, he could become the starting shortstop in Atlanta for the foreseeable future.