Long story shortstop: Braves have SS depth

Long story shortstop: Braves have SS depth

Long story shortstop: Braves have SS depth
ATLANTA -- As Braves general manager Frank Wren evaluates who might serve as his shortstop next year, he will continue to discard any options that would block the path of Tyler Pastornicky, Andrelton Simmons or any of his organization's other impressive young shortstops.

With Alex Gonzalez on the free-agent market and in line to gain a multiyear contract, Wren has spent that past few weeks evaluating trade options and the free-agent market in search of who might serve as his shortstop next season.

At the same time, Wren has not completely ruled out the possibility that Pastornicky will begin the 2012 season as Atlanta's starting shortstop.

"We're going to remain open-minded and look at the opportunities we have with trades or free agents," Wren said. "We'll also continue to evaluate our internal options."

While various scouts have debated whether the 21-year-old Pastornicky is ready for an everyday role with Atlanta, Wren has not closed the door on the possibility of giving the hard-nosed young shortstop a chance to prove what he can do at the big league level.

If Pastornicky is not deemed ready by the start of next season, there is certainly reason to believe he could fill an everyday role by the start of 2013. But by that time, Simmons could also find himself ready to assume what could be a long-term role as Atlanta's shortstop.

The Braves are also very high on Nick Ahmed, a 21-year-old shortstop who was selected out of the University of Connecticut in the second round of this past summer's First-Year Player Draft.

"We have some really good young shortstops," Wren said. "It does not make a lot of sense for us to get into an agreement that blocks the progress of our kids."

It's long been realized that the Braves would not be in the market for Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins, who stand as the top two free-agent shortstops available. At the same time, the past few weeks have given Wren and his staff reason to believe Gonzalez will likely get the kind of multiyear contract they are not willing to provide.

In fact, while Wren is not completely ruling out the possibility of acquiring Gonzalez's replacement via free agency, it seems more logical to believe he will find the short-term shortstop he is seeking via a trade.

Because the Braves might only need to find a shortstop for next season, their best available candidates via the trade market could be shortstops eligible for free agency at the end of the 2012 season. Some of the top candidates from this group include the Angels' Erick Aybar and the D-backs' Stephen Drew.

But there has not been any indication that Aybar or Drew would be available via a trade.

While Wren said he would feel comfortable if he entered next season with Pastornicky as his starting shortstop, it seems he will make every attempt to find a much more experienced option.

The son of respected scout Cliff Pastornicky, who played 10 games for John Schuerholz's Royals in 1983, Tyler has impressed many with his work ethic and the high-energy approach he brings to the game on a daily basis.

"He's a baseball player and he understands the game," Wren said. "He has performed well at every level."

Pastornicky hit .314 with seven home runs and a .773 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 117 combined games with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett this year. He struck out 45 times and drew 32 walks in 512 plate appearances.

The Braves were impressed with what they saw from Pastornicky during the 27 games after he gained a promotion to Gwinnett in July. He missed a couple weeks in August with a high ankle sprain. While hitting .365 with an .821 OPS against Triple-A competition, he seemed to give the Braves a sense that he is at least close to being Major League ready.

While Pastornicky could find himself playing shortstop at the big league level next year, Simmons seems primed to experience a long tenure as Atlanta's shortstop. The athletic 22-year-old prospect from Curacao spent this summer impressing manager Luis Salazar and the rest of the Class A Advanced Lynchburg organization with his range and tremendous arm.

When the Braves took Simmons in the second round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, there was some speculation that he might end up pitching. But those thoughts have quickly evaporated over the past two summers.

Simmons batted .311 while winning the Carolina League batting crown this year. The next best batting average was produced by Wilmington's Carlo Testa, who hit .290.

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.