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Pastornicky Primed for Playing Time in Atlanta

With each passing day, it becomes more likely prospect Tyler Pastornicky will open the 2012 season as the starting shortstop for one the National League’s best teams. As the Atlanta Braves continue their careful transition from present-to-future, providing a defensive anchor at shortstop will be key as the organization’s strength is in its young pitching.

However, for as good as Tyler Pastornicky was in 2011 across the double-A and triple-A levels, his success as a big leaguer is far from a sure thing. And this is what makes a scouting report on Pastornicky difficult to write. Was he young for the level of competition? Yes. Were his offensive numbers strong? Certainly, but Pastornicky does not scout as well as his age and overall offensive numbers would indicate. This is why it’s important to be blunt in stating I like the young shortstop more than most, but can already envision this piece being perceived as overly negative when compared to the notoriety Pastornicky has gained this off-season as a potential shortstop of the future for the Braves.

Video after the jump

When reflecting on Tyler Pastornicky, the phrase, “jack of all trades, master of none” comes to mind as a fitting description. Quite often, this type of skill set leads to a long career in the major leagues, but not necessarily as a starter which is the sentiment amongst contacts in the industry. However, I saw a shortstop who projects as a capable second division starter, but not a player good enough to truly stake claim to the title, “shortstop of the future” for the Braves, or any organization for that matter.

In game action, Pastornicky showed a strong aptitude for contact and the ability to drive mistakes. The compact right-handed hitter appears to have a strong understanding of his strengths and plays to them by utilizing a short, level swing plane. By keeping his hands inside the baseball quite well, Pastornicky is capable of using the entire field, spraying hard ground balls and line drives consistently in the dozen or so at bats witnessed over the course of the 2011 season. Mechanically, Pastornicky would benefit from quieting the extra wiggle in his pre-swing load and timing mechanism. As a sign of growth, recorded at bats from later in the 2011 season did indicate improvement in that area.

However, Pastornicky appeared to cheat a bit against better velocity which major league pitching is better equipped to exploit than anything he faced at the double-A and triple-A levels. Having played the season at 21, Pastornicky has plenty of time to tweak and develop his approach, but it’s something worth monitoring. Additionally, he did hit a long home run to left-centerfield off of a Kenley Jansen hanging slider displaying the ability to identify and sit back on mistake pitches at times. Should added consistency come with age, then Pastornicky could push double-digit home run totals annually – especially if his he becomes more selective early in the count and learns how to identify pitches to drive.

On defense, Pastornicky showed the ability to consistently handle routine plays when scouting him at the double-A level. His range and arm strength were more on the average side so utilizing proper angles on the infield to cut off ground balls will be important to his defensive development. For me, the trademark of a shortstop at the minor league level who projects well on defense is the ability to make plays deep in the 5/6 hole and Pastornicky was not tested in that way. However, I have my doubts as to whether he has that ability based on the sum of the defensive pieces I was able to scout. One thing working in his favor to counter my argument is the fact I pulled a 4.0-4.05 home-to-first time from video which rates in the neighborhood of a 70 on the 20/80 scale.

Having also scouted Pastornicky early into his triple-A career, I perceived a general lack of confidence in working with new infield partners. On a few “tweener” ground balls, Pastornicky pulled up a bit hesitant instead of projecting as the leader on defense a shortstop needs to be. It’s not really a big deal considering his age and the overall dynamics of integrating into a new team, but worth mentioning as most other true shortstop prospects I’ve scouted do project an aura of confidence as if they own the playing field, but their other teammates are simply renting a piece.

In struggling to find a strong comp, I keep coming back to Pastornicky scouting similarly to Cincinnati Reds shortstop Zack Cozart with a bit less pop and better speed. However, Cozart was 23 in double-A in 2009 when Pastornicky pushed through the same league at 21 which points to the potential for a higher ceiling in the end. With a 4.2 WAR Fans projection for Cozart though the combination of solid, but unspectacular offensive numbers and above average defense, the formula for Pastornicky to replicate and make doubters look silly is laid out in plain sight.