Cristian Pache, CF
Age: 20 (11/19/98)
Level: AA - Atlanta Braves
2017 A: .281/.335/.343, 0 HR, 21 XBH, 20.3% LD, 51.5% GB, 28.2% FB, 7.6% BB, .062 ISO, .360 BABIP - 469 AB
2018 A+: .285/.311/.431, 8 HR, 33 XBH, 22% LD, 48% GB, 30% FB, 3.9% BB, .146 ISO, .330 BABIP - 369 AB
2018 AA: .260/.294/.337, 1 HR, 5 XBH, 24% LD, 50.7% GB, 25.3% FB, 4.6% BB, 0.77 ISO, .347 BABIP - 104 AB
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Much has been written about the progression that Cristian Pache made from 2017 to 2018. He came into 2018 with only 32 XBH in 689 career minor league at-bats and ended the year with 9 HR and a promotion to Double-A as a teenager. He shored up the lower half of his swing and added muscle over the off-season, which resulted in an increase in game power. Pache is still very raw at the plate and is learning how to hit. There are concerns about his walk rate, his high ground-ball rate, and approach at the plate. However, the overall athleticism, tools, and projection are more than enough to start loading up on Pache in your fantasy leagues.
Pache is the true epitome of a five-tool player. His speed, defense, and arm have all been graded as high as 80 on various sites. I grade his speed and arm as solid 70s while his defense is 80. He is a Gold Glove-caliber defender right now. You might be saying to yourself, “That’s all good, but he doesn’t hit or walk enough.” My answer is quite simple: defense matters. It gives prospects a longer leash to develop and keeps them in the lineup. These three tools usually lead to a long MLB career (see Alcides Escobar, Peter Bourjos, and Jarred Dyson). When I am scouting the minors, I always ask myself three questions: Is what I am seeing the player’s ceiling? Can he play in the majors? And if so, what sort of role? Concerning Pache, and most teenagers playing in A/AA, the answer to the first question is always no. The answer to the next question, in Pache’s case, is yes, because the defense is so good. All Pache really needs to do is develop enough of a hit tool to stay employed.
Pache has always been raw with exceptional barrel control that allows him to make consistent contact. Before 2018, Pache was a bit more spread out in the box. While he still employed a leg kick, it acted more as a timing mechanism than a source of power or bat speed. The Braves saw enough athleticism and raw power to invite him to big league camp last spring to work with the major league coaches on unlocking his raw power. Pache now employs a much more upright approach, using his leg kick to load his back hip before swinging with intent. In the video above, notice how Pache gets out on his front foot too quick which neutralizes any force through his lower half, resulting in a primarily upper-body swing. That is the swing that I saw in 2017 while Pache was in Low A.
In the next video, this swing resulted in Pache’s first career HR. A 387-foot missile to left-center field. His lower body weight transfer is much more controlled creating more rotational torque. While he still tends to lunge a bit and get to his front foot early, he is still creating enough momentum to generate consistent hard contact.
Notice that Pache’s ground ball rate remained similar to 2018. There is a small uptick in line-drive rate but no substantial difference compared to 2017. If we look between the numbers though, you will start to see the projection. The graph below shows Pache’s improvement in fly-ball distance. He added about 15-20 feet to his fly balls. The increase in hard contact naturally led to a substantial improvement in isolated power (ISO) as well. And this was without necessarily making a change to increase launch angle. Let that sink in a bit.
When I spoke to Pache in Spring Training, he talked about working toward “more consistent” power. That consistency requires reps. 2018 was the start. In 2019, Pache will look to build off this foundation. A big improvement that he needs to make is pitch recognition. While he doesn’t strike out a lot, he does swing a lot, often at pitches he is unable to punish. His low walk rate isn’t a concern for me…yet. I want him to swing the bat. In 2018, his swinging-strike rate was 12.6 percent, the same as Eloy Jimenez. However, the biggest improvement that he needs to make is to put together consistently balanced swings. In his best at-bats, like the video of above, he remained balanced. Still, he struggles to find that consistent approach, which is typical for a 19-year-old (not named Vlad or Soto) facing pitchers three to five years older than him.
Overall, Pache has the chance to become a special player that will impact the game in every facet. His plus athleticism, bat speed, raw offensive tools, and plus-plus defense make for an exciting prospect. Based on the jump in results from 2017 to 2018, and his overall tool set, it is safe to assume that Pache will continue to refine his approach and hit tool. Those improvements will increase his game power. If he is able to make another substantial offensive leap, he will place himself in the conversation as the top prospect in baseball by this time next year.