Cristian Pache's Offensive Emergence Brightens His Future
DUNEDIN, Fla. — Cristian Pache has long been regarded as not only the best outfield defender in a stacked Braves system, but also as one of the elite glovemen in all of baseball. That alone would be enough to make him a prospect worth watching.
Until recently, though, his offense had lagged far behind his work in the field. Entering this season, Pache had gone homerless in 689 career at-bats over two years and across three levels of the low minors. And it’s not like he was hitting a lot of balls that were just missing, either, because he had just 17 doubles in that time.
What a difference a year makes.
In 91 games with high Class A Florida, Pache has clubbed 20 doubles and added his first professional home run. And seven more after that. So what’s changed that has allowed the 20-year-old to tap into his power and become a more complete player?
“For the most part, this winter I was trying to get stronger and eat better,” Pache said, with the help of an translator. “That’s the program they gave me when I went home to the Dominican, so when I came to spring training, everything was top of the line.”
But that was only the start. While Pache continued to work to add bulk, he was also working to fine-tune his natural gifts. He made an effort to swing at better pitches. He worked to improve his tempo and rhythm at the plate, too.
Mechanically, he stands straighter when he’s at the plate, which he says allows him to see the ball longer and allows him more time to decide whether to swing. He made the choice after watching video of himself and noticing he was in a deeper crouch than he would like, which meant he would have to spend time getting out of the crouch and getting in a better position to hit the ball.
His manager, Luis Salazar, has seen the results over the course of Pache’s most successful season.
“He didn’t hit a home run last year. He was kept empty,” Salazar said. “This year, he’s stronger and he’s working the strike zone. He’s going to get better with experience. He’s a young kid with a lot of talent.”
Right now, though, the breakout at the plate is a bonus. Pache’s real attraction is the smooth, near-flawless defense he plays in center field. He shows tremendous first-step instincts, as well as an innate ability to glide to balls hit to any part of the park.
It might look effortless when the lights come on, but those skills have taken years to mold during times most people aren’t allowed in the ballpark.
“I try to treat batting practice like a game situation,” Pache said. “I try to get good reads off the bat and good jumps on the ball. I’ve continued to do that because I want to get better and better and better.”
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He’s been practicing that way since he was 14 years old and working with trainers in academies in the Dominican Republic. He had been a third baseman and a shortstop when he was younger, but one day started messing around in the outfield and quickly realized he could be very, very good out there if he put in the work.
“He gets to the ball quicker than anybody,” Salazar said. “His first-step quickness is unbelievable. … He’s working (in batting practice) on his routes and his reads. Reading the swing is key to being where he’s at now. He’s working on his pre-pitch setup and reading the swing to know who’s hitting.”
The results of that work show up time and time again, with catch after catch on balls that most center fielders would do well to cut off in the gap to hold the hitter to a single. Not Pache. He gets there, and he does it easily.
“He made some plays out there that you don’t see in center field. Unbelievable,” Salazar said. “He runs balls down in right-center, in left-center, he played like three positions in one. He makes catches in the gaps, and going back he’s unbelievable. He takes so many extra bases away. Pitchers love it when he’s in center field.
When asked about a potential comparison for Pache, Salazar dug deep and found former Indians and Mariners outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who at his peak was one of the game’s best defensive outfielders and more than held his own at the plate.
He’s still a few years from the major leagues, but his offensive emergence makes it easy to see why the Braves and the rest of baseball hold Pache in such high regard.