When we think about prospects, we tend to dump them into bins. Sometimes it’s as simple as starter versus reliever, other times it’s more complicated. Because evaluating risk is part of analyzing players, you’ll hear or read how some prospects are regarded as “safe.” You’ll also read or how about “polarizing” prospects, who cause evaluators to fall into camps. Seldom do those labels apply to the same player, but there are exceptions. For example: Cristian Pache.
Pache, 20, could be a member of the Braves outfield next season. He’s already in Double-A, where he’s enjoying the best offensive season of his professional career. Consider those good signs, as Double-A is often thought of as the page 69 test of pro baseball — if you like what you see there, it’s probably a good sign; if you don’t, it’s not.
So, what is it about Pache that allows him to occupy two seemingly conflicting spaces?
The “safe” aspects of Pache’s game begin with his athleticism. He’s a fast runner with a strong arm. Those traits help make him one of the top defensive outfielders in baseball, be it in the majors, minors, independent ball, whatever. There’s a healthy chance he wins a Gold Glove Award someday, and a fair chance he’ll win more than one before he hangs them up. And to be clear — those secondary skills almost ensure he’s going to have a lengthy big-league career.
How fruitful Pache’s career proves to be hinges on what happens with his bat — and yes, this is where things get tricky. Throughout his career, he’s possessed a walk allergy. That may not be a big deal within itself, but, when combined with his lackluster power production, the duo put a lot of pressure on sustaining a high average in order for him to profile as a passable hitter.
To Pache’s credit, he may be in the process of improving those areas of weakness. He’s threatening a career-high walk rate, and has shown signs of tapping into his above-average raw power. According to league sources, Pache has increased his launch angle this season. He’s also hitting the ball hard, with an average exit velocity in the mid-90s. Of course, you don’t need those numbers to realize something has changed — just look at his home-run total (11), where he’s 1) already established a new career-high and 2) has more than doubled his career total.
If these apparent gains hold, Pache has the potential to be a superstar: an impact-level defender who can bat higher than the bottom of the order. If they prove false, or mostly false, he’s still going to be a multi-year starter — just, perhaps, along the lines of a Kevin Pillar type. There’s value in either outcome, but one is obviously more desirable — unless you’re a fan of a non-Braves National League East team, that is.
Can a player be safe and risky? Pache and his range of outcomes suggest yes.
Now, onto the Watch.