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Pastornicky, Simmons continue shortstop battle

Pastornicky, Simmons continue shortstop battle

Pastornicky, Simmons continue shortstop battle
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Even as Tyler Pastornicky prepared to begin this year as the Braves' starting shortstop, there was always reason to believe he would simply keep the role until Andrelton Simmons proved he was ready to play at the Major League level.

Simmons made things more interesting during the early weeks of Spring Training as he dazzled with his tremendous defensive skills and made both scouts and teammates wonder if his bat was at least adequate enough to already make him the better option to begin the year as Atlanta's starting shortstop.

But with two weeks remaining in the Grapefruit League season and Simmons starting to provide reminders that his offensive game still needs polish, the Braves will keep an open mind as they evaluate whether they should indeed alter their plan to begin the year with Pastornicky as their shortstop.

"Just let them play," general manager Frank Wren said. "Spring Training has a way of answering your questions for you, so we will continue to play games and watch and observe and let all of those things play out.

"So I think you just have to not be quick to make decisions based on a small sample size or a week or two of games. Sometimes you see things the first two weeks and you're saying, 'Wow.' Then another 10 days later, you're going, 'Oh OK, that's what we expected.'"

The Braves have essentially been alternating Simmons and Pastornicky as the starting shortstop on a daily basis over the past week. Given the assignment during Monday afternoon's game against the Cardinals, Simmons went hitless in four at-bats and saw his Grapefruit League batting average dip to .200 (6-for-30). He has just one hit in his past 13 at-bats.

These small sample size products only prove meaningful when accounting for the 22-year-old's background. The Braves drafted Simmons in the second round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft because they were among the teams that were concerned about his offensive skills.

When it came time to assign Simmons to a team for his first professional season last year, the Braves were hesitant with their decision to send him to Class A Advanced Lynchburg. They felt more at ease with the decision as he clearly conquered the challenge and won the Carolina League batting title.

"We challenged him significantly last year, and he handled that well," Wren said. "He's a talented young guy and sometimes you get surprised when you keep pushing them and they keep making the adjustments necessary."

But should the Braves really ask Simmons to make a much more significant jump to the Majors with just 839 plate appearances into his professional career? Or would it be in the best interest of the both the club and the young shortstop to allow him to at least prove he can hit Double-A pitching?

"You got to learn you're playing with big league guys," Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal said. "When you're in [Class A], there are a lot of base hits you collect that in the big leagues will be out. Then some plays you make in the Minor Leagues are going to be tough, because everybody will be fast."

"The talent has got to be there. Mentally and physically, you've got to be ready for it."

The Braves benefitted from the gamble they took in 2000, when they allowed Furcal to make the jump from the Class A level to the Majors when he was only 22 and with 1,182 plate appearances under his belt.

But while both have tremendous range and rocket arms, the comparisons between these two should be made with the understanding that Simmons does not possess anywhere near the same kind of speed that helped Furcal make a successful leap and win the 2000 National League Rookie of the Year Award.

Furcal's rapid rise was aided by the fact that Walt Weiss was on the downside of his career. The fact that Simmons could make this same leap has been aided by the fact that Pastornicky has struggled both at the plate and in the field during the first two weeks of the Grapefruit League season.

Pastornicky has batted .125 (5-for-40) and committed three errors while looking tight in the field. His struggles could be blamed on nerves or simply validate the belief of some scouts who exited the 2011 season with the belief that Pastornicky was not ready to be an everyday player at the Major League level.

The Braves were happy to hear Pastornicky tell reporters that he felt more relaxed after producing three productive plate appearances against the Blue Jays on Saturday. Now they can only hope he continues to provide them some confidence over the next couple of weeks.

"There are things that happen in Spring Training that happen to young players that we've grown to expect," Wren said. "The first time they are in position to win a job, sometimes it takes a while for them to settle down. Even though they are fully prepared coming in, the reality hits and you start playing the games."

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

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