Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez just broke the news on MLB Network Radio: the team plans to go with rookie Tyler Pastornicky at shortstop in 2012. The starter in 2011, Alex Gonzalez, was not offered arbitration by the team this offseason.
Pastornicky seemed to be the favorite for the role. There was a high ceiling with the shortstops on the free agent market this offseason, with players like Jose Reyes and Jimmy Rollins lurking. But the dropoff after those two was severe, and you were looking at guys like Gonzalez and Yuniesky Betancourt, both of whom scare me for a variety of reasons.
I was in favor of either keeping Gonzalez for around the same salary he was getting in 2011, or giving the job to Pastornicky. A raise for Gonzalez was completely out of the question in my mind, due to his anemic bat. Sure, the glove is great, but I can't get past his sub-.300 on base percentages in the last three years. Even at the bottom of the lineup, that's unacceptable.
As for Pastornicky, his starter's role in 2012 will mark the fourth straight year that a rookie position player will be starting for the Braves, following Jordan Schafer, Jason Heyward, and Freddie Freeman in the three years prior. The Schafer experiment didn't work out well due to a broken wrist, but Heyward and Freeman were smashing successes in their rookie seasons, though Heyward dropped off a bit last year due to a balky shoulder.
Pastornicky had a .314/.359/.414 triple slash in 459 at bats for Mississippi and Gwinnett, along with seven homers and 27 stolen bases. I calculated Pastornicky's major league equivalents
a couple of months ago, and determined that he could provide roughly the same or better offensive value as Gonzalez did.
With the shortstop question not a question anymore, the attention will turn to moving Martin Prado and/or Jair Jurrjens in search of an impact bat. Apparently around a dozen teams are interested in Jurrjens, and half the league is interested in Prado, so there is plenty of interest to go around. It might simply be a matter of picking the package that best suits his interests for Frank Wren at this point in time.