One day after hitting a three-run homer in a split-squad loss to the Orioles, Pache learned he was being optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett. This was not a surprising development for the 21-year-old center fielder, who ranks No. 13 in MLB Pipeline’s Top 100. He could reach the Majors this season, but he must continue his offensive development.
“He’s continuing to grow,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “He’s bigger, stronger and more mature. He’s trending in the right direction as a young player. That’s kind of what you look for.”
Physical maturity has continued to benefit Pache, who hit a combined 12 homers and produced an .802 OPS for Double-A Mississippi and Gwinnett last year. He entered the 2018 season having gone homerless while producing a sub-.400 slugging percentage during his first two professional seasons.
But from a defensive perspective, the Braves know they have something special. Two years ago, 10-time Gold Glove Award-winning center fielder Andruw Jones began describing Pache as the best defensive outfielder in the organization.
Pache was 19 at the time, and Atlanta center fielder Ender Inciarte had just won the second of three consecutive Gold Glove Awards.
“He’s a kid that is going to start at Triple-A,” Snitker said. “Hopefully not, but it’s more than likely you’re going to need a guy like that before the year is over. It’s good to see his development. You know the defensive [aspect]. There’s no doubt about that. It’s just the strength and maturity offensively.”
Left-handed relievers Phil Pfeifer and Tucker Davidson and catcher William Contreras were the other players optioned to Gwinnett.
This is a big year for Contreras, whose performance will be measured against that of Shea Langeliers, who was taken ninth overall in last summer’s MLB Draft. Langeliers’ impressive stint in big league camp has created a reason to think he might be the club’s catcher of the future. Per MLB Pipeline, Contreras is Atlanta's No. 9 prospect and Langeliers is No. 5.
With Pfeifer being optioned, it’s looking as if the Braves might begin the season with Will Smith as the only left-hander in their bullpen. This is an option created by the installation of the three-batter minimum rule, which teams will need to begin following starting Thursday.
Max Fried drew praise from Snitker after tossing 4 2/3 scoreless innings against a Twins lineup that included Max Kepler, Josh Donaldson, Nelson Cruz and Miguel Sanó. The lefty pitched around five walks, two of which created a bases-loaded threat in the second inning.
“It was his best outing of the spring,” Snitker said. “I thought his breaking ball got better and his slider had good life again. I loved the angle of his fastball. He was getting that down in the zone. It took him a while to get going, but he got going and had a really nice outing.”
Fried believed the walks were just part of the process of getting a feel for his mechanics while pitching in a competitive setting. This was his second Grapefruit League start since he recorded just one out in his Feb. 26 spring debut against the Blue Jays. He faced a group of Braves Minor Leaguers in a simulated game that was arranged when his turn came last week.
“I was able to get in those back-field games and really work on my changeup,” Fried said. “I threw some that I was really happy about in some big spots. I’m really making strides with that pitch.”
Freddie Freeman was scratched from Tuesday night’s lineup against the Orioles to allow him to tend to a personal family matter. Freeman will continue working out at the team’s facility in North Port this week, and he’s expected to be in the lineup for Friday afternoon’s game against the Mets.
Kyle Wright will attempt to improve his rotation bid when the Braves travel to Lakeland to play the Tigers on Thursday at 1:05 p.m. ET. Wright, Félix Hernández and Sean Newcomb are battling for the two open spots in Atlanta’s rotation.