Braves happy with outfield mix

Atlanta Braves outfielder Cristian Pache plays the hop on a single by Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Will Smith in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020,  at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)
Atlanta Braves outfielder Cristian Pache plays the hop on a single by Los Angeles Dodgers designated hitter Will Smith in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series Saturday, Oct. 17, 2020, at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas. (Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com)

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Braves manager Brian Snitker joined fans in sitting and waiting through Marcell Ozuna Watch 2020-21. Ozuna’s prolonged free agency ended earlier this month when the Braves finally re-signed their star slugger.

“I just kept crossing my fingers and hoping – he was kind of the last guy left – that we could get him,” Snitker said. “Kudos to (general manager) Alex (Anthopoulos) for getting him. What we saw out of him, how he fit in here, what he brought to our club and meant to our team, I’d venture to say everybody in our uniform was excited to have him back.”

Retaining Ozuna cleared up the Braves’ outfield situation. Without the universal designated hitter, Ozuna – not known as a defensive wizard – will play left field. The Braves reiterated their faith that Ozuna can be an average outfielder, and if that proves true, the signing will be even better.

The center-field job isn’t cemented, but the job likely is going to rookie Cristian Pache, a phenomenal defender who’s developing his offense. After appearing in only two regular-season games, Pache impressed in the postseason in October, especially in the National League Championship Series, when he was forced into action after Adam Duvall suffered an injury.

While he went only 4-for-22, Pache had a homer and four RBIs. He also showed his excellent range in center. The spotlight didn’t appear overwhelming.

“We’re going to give him a lot of opportunity,” Snitker said. “The kid has to come to camp feeling really good about things, having a lot of confidence off his performance in the NLCS. This’ll be his third or fourth camp, so he’ll know what to expect and have a better idea about himself.

“Until these guys come in and compete at this level, they don’t know what to expect. He probably has a lot of confidence in his abilities and that he can play here.”

Unless there’s another outfield acquisition before opening day, Ronald Acuna will be in right field. When speaking after the Ozuna signing, Anthopoulos left the door open to adding another outfielder – one that could shift Acuna to center.

The likeliest scenario is the Ozuna-Pache-Acuna arrangement, which would be among the most talented outfields in the sport. Behind them, the Braves will have a new mix after Duvall departed for Miami and Nick Markakis remains a free agent. Ender Inciarte, who’s competing for the starting center field job, Abraham Almonte and Travis Demeritte are other outfielders on the 40-man roster.

“I don’t know that we need (anyone),” Snitker said. “I like who we have right now, who we’re going to camp with and where we are. It doesn’t matter what I think, all those things have a way of working themselves out over time.”

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