ATLANTA -- Cristian Pache was just 19 years old and had never played a game above the Class A level when Andruw Jones described him to be the best defensive outfielder in the Braves’ organization. This high praise from his idol has fueled Pache, who has appreciated the friendship he
ATLANTA -- Cristian Pache was just 19 years old and had never played a game above the Class A level when Andruw Jones described him to be the best defensive outfielder in the Braves’ organization. This high praise from his idol has fueled Pache, who has appreciated the friendship he has developed with the man who won 10 consecutive National League Gold Glove Awards while playing center field for Atlanta.
“He’s spoken to me on social media and we’ve also spoken in person,” Pache said through an interpreter. “His advice has made me a better outfielder every day.”
Pache was among the many top prospects who attended MLB’s Rookie Career Development Program in Miami last week. The 21-year-old outfielder was counseled on a number of issues he could soon encounter once he reaches the Major League level. He will come to Spring Training looking to prove he will be ready to make the jump if necessary at some point this year.
When Pache becomes a big leaguer, he will proudly wear No. 25, the jersey number Jones wore while establishing himself as one of Atlanta’s most iconic players from 1996-2007. The former center fielder annually won a Gold Glove from 1998-2007 and now serves as a special assistant within Atlanta’s front office.
“When I wore that number my first year [in Spring Training], [Jones] said, ‘Tremendous number,'" Pache said. “And I told him, ‘Yes, I wear it because of you, because that inspires me a lot.' I’m wearing it and want to continue wearing it, because it fills me with pride to have that number on my back.”
MLB Pipeline ranks Pache as its No. 11 overall prospect, the top prospect within Atlanta’s organization and the game’s No. 3 outfield prospect, behind only Luis Robert (White Sox) and Jo Adell (Angels).
Pache’s meteoric rise has occurred since he came to Atlanta’s big league Spring Training for the first time in 2018 and was labeled the club’s best defensive outfielder. When Jones made this claim, Ender Inciarte had already won two of the three consecutive Gold Glove Awards he garnered for Atlanta from 2016-18.
But while Pache’s defensive skills have long been respected, his development into one of the game’s top prospects has been a product of the physical maturity that has allowed him to show his power potential over the past two seasons.
Pache went homerless and totaled just 32 extra-base hits over 689 at-bats at the Rookie and Class A levels from 2016-17. He showed some increased power potential during Spring Training in '18 and ended that exhibition season by hitting a pair of homers against Sean Newcomb during a game that pitted prospects against Braves big leaguers at SunTrust Park.
The two-homer game was a springboard toward what proved to be a breakout season for Pache, who combined to hit nine homers while playing for Class A Advanced Florida and Double-A Mississippi in 2018. He hit 11 more homers in 104 games for Mississippi last summer and then added one more while producing a .747 OPS over 105 plate appearances for Triple-A Gwinnett.
Pache’s promotion to Gwinnett in '19 gave him and the club a better feel for how close he might be to being deemed Major League ready. He will likely begin the upcoming season at the Triple-A level. But there’s a chance he could get an early-season call to Atlanta, much like Ronald Acuña Jr. and Austin Riley have within the past two seasons.
“This year, God willing, I’d like to be healthy, to give the best of myself to the team so that they have good plans for me,” Pache said.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.