Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken to reach the brink of realizing his Major League dream. Here's a look at Atlanta Braves outfielder Cristian Pache. Over the past few seasons, outfielder Cristian Pache has provided depth at the upper tier of a Braves prospect
Each week, MiLB.com profiles an elite prospect by chronicling the steps he's taken to reach the brink of realizing his Major League dream. Here's a look at Atlanta Braves outfielder Cristian Pache.
Over the past few seasons, outfielder Cristian Pache has provided depth at the upper tier of a Braves prospect pool considered among the best in the game. As youngsters like Ronald Acuña Jr. and Mike Soroka graduated to the Majors, Pache emerged as the leader of the next wave.
"Even at such a young age and being one of our more visible prospects, Cristian continued to shine," Braves director of player development Dom Chiti said in October. "He made great strides and continued to adjust his swing and overall game as he progressed throughout the year. His defense has always been there, but his bat took a giant step forward in 2019. We're really excited to see what comes next."
The top Braves prospect was a member of the same 2015 international class as Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Juan Soto and Fernando Tatis Jr. Pache, ranked 14th in the class, signed a $1.4-million contract with Atlanta on July 4. To free up enough international bonus money ($1.1 million) to sign both Pache and Dominican infielder Derian Cruz, who received a $2 million bonus, the Braves made three trades that cost them five players.
Pache and Cruz were the last international pair to stay in the system on seven-figure bonuses. The Braves were forced to forfeit 13 prospects following an MLB investigation into the club's international signing practices in 2016-17. Atlanta has been extremely restricted in its ability to make international signings the past two years and will be limited to half of its 2020 bonus pool as its final punishment.
But it was players like Pache, MLB.com's No. 13 overall prospect , who've helped the Braves come out on the other side of the sanctions without missing a beat.
As a 16-year-old in the Dominican Republic, he impressed scouts with speed and athleticism, making him a smooth runner and capable outfield defender. He also showed an advanced approach at the plate and rarely struck out.
2016 (Rookie-level Gulf Coast League, Rookie Advanced Danville)
Pache made his professional debut in the GCL. He caught on quickly, recording hits in each of his first six games, and batted .283 with seven stolen bases and 16 runs scored. His time in Florida lasted only 27 games before he was promoted to the Appalachian League at the end of July.
Pache proved worthy of attention over the final 30 games with Danville. He hit .333/.372/.404 with four steals and 11 runs scored. He didn't quite live up to his scouting report in his first season, committing six errors in those 57 games, but quickly left that trend behind [that figure remains his single-season high]. The 6-foot-2, 185-pounder made six errors in 2017 but did so over a full 119-game season.
2017 (Class A Rome)
The Santo Domingo Centro native played his first full season in the South Atlantic League in 2017. With his defensive prowess shored up, Pache strived to improve his hit tool.
"He's been working extremely hard getting some separation in his swing, staying gap to gap-oriented through the middle," Rome hitting coach Bobby Moore told MiLB.com after a clutch performance by Pache that May. "That way, he has more time to react and let his hands be more free. He's been working on that since day one, and today it paid off for him."
• Pache makes an over-the-shoulder grab
Pache spent the whole year in Rome, earned midseason All-Star honors and finished with a .281/.335/.343 slash line and 32 stolen bases. He finished second in the SAL with eight triples and earned the first of his three Organization All-Star nods.
Already, Pache was being compared to Acuña.
"He doesn't have the bat of Acuña, but he has the tools. He can run, throw, defend, his makeup is unbelievable," former Braves player development director Dave Trembley told MiLB.com that October. "He's a tremendous outfielder, fearless on the bases. We're going to work with him on his hitting, driving the ball a little bit more. We think the power will come a little later as he plays a little bit more."
2018 (Class A Advanced Florida, Double-A Mississippi)
Pache was back in Florida for the start of the year, this time with an invitation to his first big league Spring Training. He had two hits in 10 Grapefruit League at-bats before reporting to the Florida State League to begin the regular season.
Just before Opening Day, Chiti told MiLB.com he suspected Pache could be the best defensive center fielder he'd ever seen in the Minor Leagues.
"Is he gifted with his running speed? Yeah," the director of player development said. "But the other parts of it, like his routes, his angles to balls, how he reacts off the bat, those things are all things that he's taken a lot of time to perfect."
With Pache's defensive profile already off the charts, it was clear an offensive surge would go a long way. He turned heads with a two-homer performance against Sean Newcomb in an intrasquad game in Atlanta before Opening Day.
He carried that into a strong start at the plate with the Fire Frogs. His power started to show up on April 24, when he belted his first professional long ball in a 3-for-5 effort against Lakeland.
"It's just good to see him get his first Minor League home run," that game's starting pitcher, Bryce Wilson, told MiLB.com. "The power is going to come for him."
• Pache drills a solo shot
The club started to reign in his aggressiveness on the bases and Pache had only seven steals in 13 tries in 93 games. But he was good enough at the plate with a .285/.311/.431 slash line and eight homers to be named an FSL All-Star, and he headed up to Double-A Mississippi at the start of August.
Pache didn't figure out the Southern League right away. He finished with a .260 average and one homer in 29 games but impressed with a well-rounded skill set as he continued along his path toward Atlanta.
"He's got all the tools and he's played really well since he got here," M-Braves manager Chris Maloney told MiLB.com three weeks after the callup.
Pache's season continued into the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .279/.323/.360 with 14 runs scored in 20 games. He played in the Rising Stars Game and was named to the All-Prospect team. The late-season promotion and AFL honors put the then-19-year-old ahead of the curve.
"They know what to expect [at the next level]. Sometimes they do it and they end up skipping to the next level the next year," Chiti told MiLB.com that October. "It gives us a good kind of snapshot of where they are, but it also gives them a snapshot of what they need to do."
2019 (Double-A Mississippi, Triple-A Gwinnett)
Pache reportedly added about 20 pounds of muscle and put forth his best offensive performance in 24 Grapefruit League games, batting .359 with two homers, five doubles and 10 RBIs. At 20 years old, he stayed at big league camp longer than just about every other non-roster player.
"He's doing everything an organization would want a young player to do, with how he's progressing and with where he's at in his development," Braves manager Brian Snitker told MLB.com. "It's all just right on time. He's going to go to Double-A. If you're at Double-A, you're in play. If they get it going, they get noticed and you don't feel bad about putting them in the big leagues."
He returned to Mississippi to open the season, earned his third consecutive midseason All-Star honor and was invited to participate in the Futures Game in Cleveland. Pache hit .278/.340/.474 with 11 homers and 53 RBIs in 104 games with the M-Braves and was promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett on Aug. 5.
• Pache belts a postseason grand slam
Pache remained consistent at the plate, batting .274/.337/.411 with 10 extra-base hits and 13 runs scored in 26 games. In his first taste of postseason play with the Stripers, he did not disappoint. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound outfielder collected five hits in 12 at-bats (.417) with a homer, two doubles and seven RBIs.
Pache had another solid performance this spring before being optioned back to the International League, days before baseball was shut down. He homered twice and hit .269 in 13 spring games while displaying the impressive defense that is his trademark.
Fellow outfield prospect Drew Waters rose to similar prominence and was a teammate of Pache's down the stretch in Gwinnett. At the start of 2018, when Pache was beginning to find his power stroke in Florida, Waters was following Pache's path in Rome.
"I want to give them just as much as Acuña and Pache did when they were here," Waters told MiLB.com that April. "It's obviously a huge honor just being in any of the same categories as those two, and the potential to play in the same outfield as them some day is really cool."
Two years later, the idea of a Waters-Pache-Acuña outfield is not just credible, it's one step away.
Gerard Gilberto is a contributor to MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @Gerard_Gilberto.