The Atlanta Braves went into the 2000 season knowing that they were a bit lacking at the shortstop position. Walt Weiss was coming off a 62 OPS+ season in 1999 and, at 35, was certainly a step slower on defense and really showed his age.
Enter Rafael Furcal, a top shortstop prospect who had displayed remarkable hitting skills, off-the-charts speed and a cannon for an arm in the low minors the previous three seasons. Conditions were ripe and Furcal made the jump from A-ball in 1999 to the majors in 2000.
He would go on to win the National League Rookie of the Year.
Coming into the 2012 season the Braves have another hyped shortstop prospect pushing to make the jump from the low minors to the majors in Andrelton Simmons.
But they have another quality shortstop prospect, in Tyler Pastornicky, who has played more games in Double-A than in any other level of the minors, made a stop in Triple-A last season and was on the major league roster the last day of the 2011 regular season.
Andrelton Simmons is no Rafael Furcal and Tyler Pastornicky, in spite of the hype, looks like the better player right now.
Simmons posted a triple-slash line of .300/.347/.392 in two minor league seasons, 2010 at the Rookie level and 2011 in High-A. But in 193 games and 839 plate appearances, he's walked just 45 times in those two seasons.
He has a good contact rate (just 57 strikeouts), but without much pop in his bat and without Furcal-like speed (Simmons has stolen 44 bases with 22 times caught stealing, far from Furcal-like), he will likely struggle to hit for a high average against major league defenses and major league pitching.
He doesn't walk enough to make up for his inability to make really hard contact, and therefore probably won't get on base enough in the majors to provide much offensive value—at least not at this stage of his development.
Pastornicky has shown slightly more pop (see his homeruns against higher-level pitching), has drawn walks at a slightly higher rate (in 2010 alone he drew 55 walks while Simmons has drawn 45 in two full seasons) and has already played at higher levels—though he's three months younger than Simmons.
Pastornicky does not appear to be anything more than an adequate major league shortstop. But he's performed slightly better than Simmons in many of the key indicators against higher-level pitching.
Reports are that Simmons is an outstanding defensive shortstop, so maybe Simmons's defense could make up the difference in likely offensive value between he and Pastornicky. However, the fact that Pastornicky has stuck at shortstop for four pro seasons and counting, and is being considered for a major league job is a pretty good indication that Pastornicky is no slouch with the glove.
The difference in the defensive abilities seems to be noticeable, but we haven't exactly heard terrible reports about Pastornicky's defense.
The defensive difference probably needs to be much greater in order for the Braves to go with the player who has yet to play above High-A, and has been slightly inferior in some key offensive indicators at lower levels.
As I write this, Simmons is 6-for-30 with 8 total bases, not that Spring Training statistics are enough of a sample to draw any conclusions. But Simmons isn't exactly overwhelming everyone and forcing the issue.
Unless Simmons has an outstanding couple of weeks, Pastornicky will be the starting shortstop when the Braves head to New York on April 5.
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