Two weeks ago marked the anniversary of the Braves trading once highly thought of shortstop Yunel Escobar and failed starter Jo-Jo Reyes to the Blue Jays in exchange for Alex Gonzalez and two prospects: Tyler Pastornicky and Tim Collins.
The trade received mixed feelings among Braves fans, and still does, though the feelings of Bobby Cox and the front office were mutual. Fans still question the decision to trade a shortstop with a bright future just because he didn’t get along with the manager. When said manager is Bobby Cox—it carries a bit more weight. The fans didn’t question the unloading of Jo-Jo Reyes, though.
Reyes really didn’t have very many fans, particularly because he failed to win a game for nearly three years (dating back to June 13, 2008). He finally notched a win this season with his new organization, and I for one was quite happy to see this. I always rooted for him to do well, though I don’t really know why. Maybe it’s because I liked to use the phrase “Jo-Jo’s got his MoJo,” or maybe because I like the underdog.
Yunel, however, was beloved among Braves fans. Whether it be his random pieces of art in the dirt, jumping in the air like a kid on a trampoline in the on-deck circle or firing rockets to first base —Yunel was fun to watch. Escobar has enjoyed success with Toronto, and I doubt that it comes as a surprise to many. He wasn’t let go due to lack of talent after all. It had everything to do with his attitude.
Escobar had distanced himself from the team, and it started to trickle into his on-field performances. Thus, the Braves did what they felt was necessary and shipped him to the Toronto Blue Jays, whose general manager, Alex Anthopoulos, is quickly earning a reputation for buying low on players who have fallen out of favor with their organization.
Still, like any major organizational trade, it’s a good [sometimes not so good] idea to revisit the deals of yesterday. This is a particular one I like because it has turned out better than it was initially thought.
Since the trade, Alex Gonzalez has been marginal at the plate but a defensive stalwart at shortstop. His struggles this year have almost reached an unbearable level among fans, and almost negated his defensive value in the process. He is an affordable option and shortstop is not an easy position to fill, especially a good defensive one.
Tim Collins was an “undersized” lefty who drew some comparisons to Billy Wagner, in the sense that his stuff was downright filthy. Unfortunately, the Braves traded Collins away to the Royals for the rental of Kyle Farnsworth and Rick Ankiel last season. Collins is doing a good job for the Royals big league club this season—as good as one would expect from a 21-year-old kid, anyway.
The real gem in the trade is flying under the radar among fans in Triple-A. Tyler Pastornicky, also 21 years old, was a fifth-round selection in the 2008 Amateur Draft and has blossomed in the Atlanta Braves system.
After posting a .254 average in 134 at-bats in a half season with the Mississippi Braves last year, Pastornicky made significant strides in his first full season at Double-A, batting .299 in 344 at-bats. He obliged the Braves recent promotion to Triple-A by hitting .441 in 34 at-bats with seven runs scored and four stolen bases in four attempts.
Perhaps one of the more impressive facets of Pastornicky’s game, aside from plus contact and plus speed, is his patience at the plate. He’s struck out just 185 times in 1,446 career at-bats, or in other words, a miniscule 11 percent of the time.
While he doesn’t draw a ton of walks, his 9 percent walk percentage is respectable. This sort of plate discipline and speed can translate to an annual average north of .290 in the big leagues. It’s even more impressive when you remind yourself that he’s a 21-year-old kid. He won’t offer much power, but could potentially be a nice leadoff hitter for the Braves in a year or two.
His glove does present a roadblock for him at the moment, though. It could very well force a move elsewhere on the diamond if he doesn’t improve. In 2009, he committed [*cover your eyes] 26 errors in 106 games in Lansing (Class A Minor League Affiliate for Toronto).
Since then, he’s totaled 17 errors in 128 games (not counting this season) so it at least seems like there’s a bit of improvement there. I think Pastornicky has a legitimate chance of competing for the Braves starting shortstop gig next spring, though he’ll have to really improve upon his glove play to do so.
A light remains at the end of the tunnel for those still second guessing the Braves decision to move Escobar. It's doubtful he'll be as colorful as Yunel, granted I can't honestly say, but he's doing the right things to soften the blow of dealing the "shortstop of the future."
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