Cristian Pache’s defense, athletic ability perfectly fit Braves

Credit: Atlanta Braves

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Braves outfielder Cristian Pache, through an interpreter, discusses what success means for him in the 2021 season.

Credit: Atlanta Braves

Cristian Pache likely will make his first opening-day start in center field this April. And the expectation is that it will be the first of many.

The Braves’ top prospect was initiated in the National League Championship Series last year, when Adam Duvall’s injury forced Pache into each of the seven games. He impressed, assembling impressive at-bats and showing the defensive prowess that’s made him so highly regarded in the minors.

Pache had only four plate appearances before the NLCS. He’d appeared in each of the Braves’ previous five playoff games, though he was a late-game defensive substitute. Pache did score the winning (only) run in the Braves’ 13-inning marathon win over the Reds in the wild-card round.

But the NLCS is where he stood out. Pache went 4-for-22 with a double and homer, but it was his poise and how he carried himself that left the organization excited.

“I thought he handled himself unbelievably,” manager Brian Snitker said. “Testament to him and the work he did at the alternate site to stay ready. It was a rough situation to put him in, the big stage. Even now, he looks like a different guy now just coming to camp than a year ago. He’s more confident in what he’s doing. They get older, play more, they get more confident and understand what they’re doing. I don’t think he could’ve performed any better than what we asked of him last year when he thrust him in there.”

Cristian Pache career stats

Pache enters 2021 the clear front-runner for the team’s starting center-fielder job. He’s competing against veteran Ender Inciarte, who’s been up and down in recent seasons but has a track record.

It’s a friendly competition to Pache, who spoke glowingly of Inciarte on Wednesday.

“Every since my very first spring training, he’s always been offering advice, willing to help me, answering questions,” Pache said via team interpreter Franco Garcia. “It’s been a great relationship. He’s an awesome human being, terrific athlete. He’s always there to answer questions and help out. To me, I take pride in, and truly enjoy, taking the field together and training together.”

Pache’s defense alone will make him a valuable player. He projects as a perennial Gold Glove winner. Pache playing next to Ronald Acuna in right field gives the Braves a dynamic, exciting outfield that’s sure to provide highlights.

At the plate, Pache has untapped ability. He’s grown in recent years and could eventually show plus power. He said he’s learned the strike zone better and, as a result, the power will come along. If Pache develops as his profile suggests is possible, he has multi-time All-Star potential.

This season, Pache likely will be at the bottom of the lineup with little pressure. His greatest immediate value will be his defense and speed. His base running will be a focal point, with the Braves hoping he’ll become a more aggressive base stealer in the future. But his baseline talent perfectly fits these Braves, who are built on defense and athletic ability.

Pache noted two simplicities when asked what would make a successful 2021: health and opportunity. The first is always paramount. The second will undoubtedly be there, and barring an unexpected change, so will Pache in Philadelphia on April 1.