As I count down to Opening Day by counting down my top 222 players of the coming season, I’ll continue to share one entry from each installment as a taster. If you’re curious about the rest of the list, just sign up using the ‘Buy Now’ button on your page. It’ll be at the righthand side on desktops and laptops, and the bottom of the page on mobile devices.
Today, one of the rookies about whom I’m most excited, and whom I wanted to rank even higher.
208. Cristian Pache, CF, Atlanta: I’m forcing myself to be conservative here. I badly want to send Pache soaring up this list, but I have to respect the real doubts about the extent to which he will hit right away. He certainly showed that he can attack even elite pitching in last year’s NLCS, and any fears that he’d have the bat knocked out of his hands in the majors should have been assuaged by the way he’s filled out since first arriving on the prospect scene. Still, I can’t be sure he’ll be much more of a hitter than Victor Robles.
Oh, man, but his defense. We got to see some of it on display during his brief stint in last year’s regular season, and during the aforementioned playoff cameo, but I think he could contend for the Fielding Bible Award right away this year, as a rookie. He’s explosive, he gets great reads, he has a strong arm. My favorite thing, though, is the way he chases balls that have already touched down (or inevitably will do so). An oft-underrated separator between mediocre and good center fielders, and between good and great ones, is the ability to judge and attack gappers and ground-ball singles. Pache is awesome at it. Lorenzo Cain used to be the same way. He would rob opponents of 90 feet at least once a week, by cutting balls off or reaching them sooner than any other center fielder in baseball. Some of it is just the enthusiasm of youth, but there’s a genuine skill involved, and Pache owns it.