While I am old enough to have attended an Atlanta Crackers game (and my first favorite baseball player was Sandy Valdespino, a player who had a .909 OPS for the Crackers in 1964) I am not a follower of minor league baseball. So when I come to Braves Journal and find people avidly dissecting Gattis and all the others I come from a state of almost full ignorance. I do know from Bill James that minor league play is broadly predictive of major league play (although the 1964 Sandy Valdespino was a bit of an anomaly) but I just don’t follow Gwinnett (or Richmond, as I’ve still been known to call them on occasion).
What I do know is that guys come from there and some of them look like ballplayers and some of them don’t. Chipper Jones looked like a ballplayer; Brad Komminsk didn’t. (Of course, Jeff Francoeur looked like a ballplayer for a while, so it’s tricky.)
It’s early, and we still have no idea which partners in the eclectic law firm of Pastornicky, Constanza and Boscan will make the team. But here’s a little about each of these minor league players from someone with a purely major league perspective.
Let’s start with Pastornicky, because I guess it can be argued that he’s not a minor league player anymore. Argued, but not convincingly, IMO. He was given the job of shortstop at the start of the season and couldn’t hold it. If he’d fielded like Simmons, we’d never have seen Simmons no matter how poor his bat was. If he’d hit like Simmons, I suspect his poor fielding would have been swept under the rug somewhat, though I’m less sure about that.
But while I know that defensive statistics are still a work in progress, neither statistics nor my aging eyes suggest that Pastornicky is a very good defensive shortstop. TZ ratings have him giving up an extra 92 runs per year while Simmons is saving 54; that’s a 146 run spread. I have no idea whether that’s right or not (it almost couldn’t be, could it?), but I also know it comports with the ocular test. When you combine this with his OPS+ of 65 (to Simmons 101) you have at best a backup, but more likely a starter in Richm… err… Gwinnett until you can find a replacement level shortstop.
And I’m quite sure that everybody in the Braves front office would rather back Simmons up with a solid-fielding no-hit Paul Janish (or someone like him) than a poor-fielding low-hit Tyler Pastornicky. Now Pastornicky is only 22, and maybe he got rushed up here a little too quickly because the Braves thought it would be a good idea to play somebody between 2nd and 3rd to stop all those dribblers from getting through, and had to address the problem without spending any money, but he is not ready right now even to be a major league backup.
Now to Koko. Constanza, so I’m told (if you think I’m actually going to look at the minor league stats, you’re mistaken – I have my pride) won the International League batting crown this year. (I no longer even know who’s in the International League.) He is not ever going to win a batting crown in the National League, though he currently holds a postseason OPS of 4.000. A triple in one AB. That said, he has everything you really want from a fourth outfielder: speed, an OK arm, some batting skills, an age that should make him comfortable on the bench and a major league minimum salary for the foreseeable future. I will be astonished I he doesn’t make the team.
His biggest controversy, of course, isn’t his fault – Fredi played him for a month or so in 2011 when he was hitting and Heyward wasn’t. The resulting Civil War threatened to split Braves Journal in two. Constanza will be 29 next year, so he’s not a long-term answer to anything, but I don’t think anybody, not even the biggest Heyward fan-boys, will begrudge him a 4th outfielder spot.
The more interesting question is whether, if the Braves pay big money for a center fielder and move Prado to 3rd, do you give Constanza the everyday left field job? I take a Pastornicky approach to this. If he’s the best you’ve got, put him there until it’s apparent he can’t hold the position – he’s earned that much at the major league level. And if he wins the NL batting crown all you minor league watchers can say “I told you so!”
Finally, J.C. Boscan. Boscan is a 33 year old catcher who can’t hit. He comes up whenever one or both of Ross and McCann are injured. But McCann will be injured until — ?????. I am of the opinion that you cannot start the season with Ross and Boscan, unless Boscan catches Medlen and you plan for nothing but shutouts when Medlen pitches. But I’m not sure addressing catcher is feasible under the current cash constraints.
A lot of this depends on what they do with McCann. As I write this today, the team is apparently mulling over even whether to pick up McCann’s once dead-certain option year. It depends on the interpretation of a bunch of MRIs that I haven’t seen and couldn’t judge if I did. If they pick up the option and lose a half-season of McCann, they will need to look around, but they have been known to go with a Boscan-type and hope for the best. Whoever’s writing up Ross can fill me in on how much use he can sustain before he hits worse than Boscan.