Would you believe center fielder Ender Inciarte might not be the best defensive outfielder in the Braves organization?
And would you believe the kid who some say is better than Inciarte defensively isn’t Ronald Acuna?
The Braves have a two-time Gold Glove winner in Inciarte and a consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball in Acuna, who’ll likely be a Gold Glove Award candidate in the near future.
But those who’ve seen Cristian Pache play plenty say the 19-year-old Dominican could be even better than Inciarte or Acuna in the outfield, where Pache showed blazing speed and a cannon-like arm last season at low Single-A Rome.
He’s in major league camp as a non-roster invitee and had an RBI single in the eighth inning Friday in a Grapefruit league opener against the Mets to give the Braves a 2-0 lead, which they blew in the bottom of the eighth in a 6-2 loss. Pache entered the game in the sixth inning.
“Some guys say he’s probably the best outfielder in camp,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “And we’ve got one (Inciarte) with a bunch of gold, so that’s pretty good. I saw him in Instructional League and even Andruw (Jones) was like, man, this guy’s pretty good. And he’s getting bigger and stronger. I was watching him the other day in (batting practice) and he was launching balls. That (hit for power) is what he hasn’t really done.
“But the kid is a specimen. My God. He’s really filling out. He’s just starting to grow.”
Jones, a former 10-time Gold Glove center fielder for the Braves and now serves as a special assistant. He’s worked with Pache and other Braves outfielders in the past week at spring training.
Pache hit .281 with a .335 OBP, eight triples, 32 stolen bases in 119 games last season at Rome, and has a .290 average, 15 triples, a .340 OBP and no homers in 689 at-bats over 176 games in the minors including 57 games of rookie ball in 2016 in his first pro season.
He was rated the ninth-best prospect in the Braves organization by Baseball America and No. 3 position-player prospect behind Acuna and third baseman Austin Riley. BA also rated Pache as the Braves organization’s fastest base runner, best defensive outfielder and best athlete.
“I don’t know if he’s the best (outfielder in the organization), but he’s really good,” Snitker said. “They say this kid can really go get it in the outfield, that he could probably play in the big leagues right now. He’s just a gifted kid. He runs, he throws. … Just got to run him through the system. He’ll go to high-A (Florida) this year, I’m sure. See where they’re at, until they play their way out of there. It’s nice to have a young, athletic guy.”