Over the course of the last few months it appeared like the Atlanta Braves were more than willing to pencil in Tyler Pastornicky as their starting shortstop. While he did not do anything particularly well on the field, Pastornicky was a very versatile player with strong numbers at Double- and Triple-A last season. Short of TP completely bombing in Spring Training, it was his job to lose.
About three weeks into the spring, some are beginning to wonder if Andrelton Simmons could take the job away from Pastornicky. Simmons, who is also 22 years old, has already been compared to Rafael Furcal for his rocket arm and incredible range on the diamond.
It appears there may be an interesting roster battle brewing in Braves Country.
There are plenty of reasons to give Pastornicky the job. He might have struggled in the opening weeks of Spring Training, but he has a proven track record in the Minor Leagues and seemed to get better as the talent level improved. Unlike Simmons, TP has actually played above High-A ball -- most scouts would tell you the jump from A+ to AA-ball is the toughest a player makes in his career -- and held his own as a 21-year-old. Again, Pastornicky will not do anything to 'wow' you and likely never will, but he's a solid option.
And then there's Simmons, arguably the biggest boom-or-bust prospect in the system. Ranked No. 4 on the team by Keith Law (and myself), the former second round pick has the tools to become a top-tier shortstop at the next level. He may never hit for power and he relies heavily on a high batting average to be productive, but he is already set for the big leagues in terms of defense. His plus-speed on the base paths also does not hurt his chances moving forward.
There are some concerns; as opposed to Pastornicky, Simmons has recorded just two seasons as a pro and is yet to play a single game in Double-A Mississippi. A few players can bypass that jump in the Minor Leagues, but very few can do it and still be successful in the Majors. There is also a legitimate concern about his bat, seeing as the best OPS he has posted in the Minors is .759, and that's with him being a year or two older than the competition at High-A Lynchburg.
So what should the Braves do?
My take on the situation: unless Simmons excels in the next few weeks and Pastornicky is a complete albatross in the field, I still think Atlanta begins the regular season with the latter. This allows the club to give TP a chance to solidify himself as their starting shortstop and lets Simmons get some much-needed seasoning at Double-A ball. Should the situation turn ugly, the Braves always have the option of calling up Simmons or potentially making a deal for a stop-gap shortstop.