Cristian Pache could be a Gold Glove center fielder.
Considering the 19-year-old is one of the youngest players in the Florida State League, that may seem like a bold statement. But it's one his current manager, Luis Salazar, fully stands behind.
"He can go to the big leagues now and be a Gold Glover in center field," Salazar said. "He's got great instincts in the outfield. He's got tremendous speed, and he's got a really good arm."
Braves Minor League coordinator John "T-Bone" Shelby sees shades Marquis Grissom in Pache.
"The first time I saw him, I saw a young kid who could do everything," Shelby said. "And when I say everything, I mean a guy who can run balls down; he's very aggressive in the outfield, he gets good jumps, he can field and he can throw."
Pache, pronounced (pah-chay), is ranked by MLB.com as the No. 9 prospect in the Braves system. The native of Santo Domingo Centro, Dominican Republic, signed with Atlanta on July 4, 2015, and made his professional debut in the U.S. a year later in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League.
While playing in a different country as a teenager presents a flurry of challenges, Pache said the Braves have helped with the transition.
"They are giving us classes for English, to help us not only know the area and the community, but also be able to communicate with the fans and everyone else on the team," Pache said through a translator.
Growing up in the Dominican Republic, Pache went to a public school that taught exclusively in Spanish, so he did not know any English before coming to play in the U.S.
He's been playing baseball since he was six years old, but he began to realize his true potential when he was 13.
"At that point, I joined a baseball camp, and it was then I knew that my career was to be a baseball player," Pache said.
The Braves offered him a contract just three years later, and now the 19-year-old has progressed to the Florida State League as a member of the Florida Fire Frogs. Through his first 38 games, Pache has hit .289 with nine doubles, three triples and the first home run of his professional career.
That home run came April 26 at Lakeland, a line drive out to left center field at the expansive Publix Field at Joker Marchant Stadium.
"He's going to add power with time and experience," Salazar said. "Now he's just trying to make contact.
"One thing he needs to learn is how to stay behind the ball and hit the ball the other way, and that's what he's been doing this year. He's been on top of the fastball, and the one thing I like the most is, this kid is going to play hard and give you 100 percent in the field. And he's one of the best defenders I've seen in a long time in center field."
Pache said he has worked to alter some of his mechanics this year, with the goal of adding more drive to his swing.
"They've been teaching me to put more power in my back foot," Pache explained, "so that way I can have a more balanced swing and more power into it."
This spring Pache had the opportunity to join the big league club as a non-roster invitee to Spring Training. He collected a couple of hits and an RBI in 10 games, but, more importantly, got a glimpse of what it takes to succeed at the highest level.
"The most important thing was learning how to control my emotions," Pache said. "But also seeing how the guys have a game plan every day, every day at practice, putting the work into it. That has helped me this year, just putting in the effort every game."
Sweet and Lowe: The Charlotte Stone Crabs' Nathaniel Lowe has been on a tear this season. The 22-year-old leads the Florida State League in average (.376), slugging percentage (.611) and RBI (37) and is second in home runs (8) and on-base percentage (.459). Lowe has also reached base in 24 consecutive games, the longest active streak in the league. It's the second-longest on-base streak in the FSL all season behind Tampa's Estevan Florial's 32 from April 8 - May 16.
Falter steady: Clearwater Threshers left-hander Bailey Falter lowered his ERA to a league-best 1.60, following five scoreless innings on Saturday. The two-time FSL Pitcher of the Week has yielded two runs or fewer in five of his seven starts and has permitted the fewest baserunners among starters in the FSL (8.47). The 21-year-old was drafted by the Phillies in the fifth round in 2015.
Stone Crab season: Charlotte owns the highest team average in the league, hitting a collective .297 -- nearly 40 points higher than the next closest competitor (Clearwater). With four hitters in the top 10 in the FSL in batting (Lowe, Jesus Sanchez, Robbie Tenerowicz, and David Rodriguez), the Stone Crabs also sport the third-highest average in the entire Minor Leagues.
Kirsten Karbach is a contributor to MiLB.com.
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.