ATLANTA -- Cristian Pache is healthy, but the Braves are going to allow their prospect to spend a little more time developing his offensive approach before placing him back on their active roster.
Pache was activated from the 10-day injured list on Saturday and then immediately optioned to the Braves’ alternate training site, which is Triple-A Gwinnett’s Coolray Field. The 22-year-old outfielder was sidelined after tweaking his left groin during an April 13 loss to the Marlins.
He was 4-for-30 with two doubles and 13 strikeouts when he was placed on the injured list.
“We’re just going to give him some consistent at-bats again,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He wasn’t swinging the bat well here. Hopefully, he can get down there, play some consistent games, back out of the fray a little bit and just get himself going.”
With Pache at the alternate site and Ender Inciarte still on the injured list, Guillermo Heredia will continue serving as Atlanta’s center fielder. Heredia entered Saturday having hit .286 with two homers and a 1.111 OPS.
Heredia’s success has allowed the Braves to be comfortable giving Pache as much time as he needs to make improvements. There is a chance the young outfielder will be with Gwinnett when the Triple-A season begins on May 4.
“Heredia is doing a really good job for us,” Snitker said. “So, it’s not imperative that [Pache] is back here. He was struggling mightily when he was here. So, hopefully, he can get some confidence and get his swing back.”
Pache ranks as the Braves’ top prospect and baseball’s No. 11 prospect per MLB Pipeline. He is a potential Gold Glove Award winner with significant upside. But there have always been concerns about his offensive development, which was stunted when he was not able to progress through a Triple-A season last year.
With the pandemic erasing the normal Minor League season last year, Pache worked out at the alternate training site, appeared in two big league games and totaled four plate appearances during the regular season. He was added to the postseason roster to serve as a pinch-runner and late-inning defensive replacement. But he became Atlanta’s center fielder when Adam Duvall strained his oblique during the second inning of Game 1 of the National League Championship Series.
Pache went 4-for-22 with a homer and a double during that best-of-seven series against the Dodgers. He then hit .184 (7-for-38) with 11 strikeouts during Spring Training. But with a swiftly-declining Inciarte serving as his only competition, the talented young outfielder was given the starting center field job.
Had Pache not been injured, the Braves were likely going to have to soon make a decision about how much longer they could keep him at the Major League level.
When the Braves activated Drew Smyly from the injured list, they had to option Sean Kazmar Jr., the beloved 36-year-old infielder who returned to the Majors last week for the first time since 2008.
There’s a chance Kazmar could remain around the Braves as a member of the taxi squad. But if nothing else, now that he is on the 40-man roster, there’s a better chance he could get other calls back to the Majors this year.
“It’s been a great opportunity for him,” Snitker said. “We finally got him up here. So, now I don’t think it will be such a big deal if we want to bring him back.”
During his seven-day stay on Atlanta’s active roster, Kazmar got a chance to play at both Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium. His lone plate appearance resulted in a double play groundout against the Cubs on April 17. He is preparing for his eighth season within the Braves organization.
Max Fried: Fried was cleared to throw a side session and complete some fielding drills on Friday. That’s encouraging progress for the lefty who strained his right hamstring while advancing from second to third on a wild pitch on April 13. But there is no timetable for his return.
Chris Martin: Martin is expected to begin throwing off a mound again within the next couple days. The Braves do not expect him to need more than a few side sessions and maybe one simulated game before being activated.
So, there is a chance the veteran setup man could be back in the Braves bullpen in the near future. He has been sidelined since right shoulder inflammation caused numbness in his fingers during an April 4 appearance in Philadelphia.