PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- A changing role this spring for Tyler Pastornicky has brought both a new set of challenges, and a new set of opportunities.
A year ago, the former fifth-round pick in the 2008 First-Year Player Draft entered camp as the favorite to become the Braves' starting shortstop, and weeks later was named the Opening Day starter. But two months into the season, he was sent down to Triple-A Gwinnett while fellow youngster Andrelton Simmons took over the job.
Simmons is now the incumbent this spring and, though he's away from camp with Team Netherlands in the World Baseball Classic, it leaves Pastornicky searching for a spot on the club as a utility player.
"Definitely a different Spring Training," Pastornicky said. "In the offseason, they told me they wanted me to start playing some other positions, so I've just been preparing that way. Getting used to running out in the outfield, tracking balls down, getting more comfortable playing second and continuing to work defensively. That's my biggest thing. Everyone knows I can hit. That's not the issue."
True enough, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez would love to find a way to be able to pencil Pastornicky into the order often. There's always been tremendous upside, as far as his bat is concerned, and he entered Monday hitting .375 (6-for-16) with two homers and six RBIs, with a 1.162 OPS already through eight Grapefruit League games.
"Sure haven't seen it bother him offensively," Gonzalez said of Pastornicky's new role. "He's got a base hit almost every time [he's played], he's got two home runs. It hasn't affected him at all. He's got enough athleticism in him that it wouldn't bother him."
While Simmons' rise may have bumped Pastornicky in the depth chart in the big-picture view of things, Simmons' recent departure may open the window again. Simmons left the team last Thursday for Taiwan, where he has been a focal point for a Dutch team that's gone 1-1 in the first round of pool play.
Should Team Netherlands advance, it would allow Pastornicky more chances to show his worth at shortstop.
"It's nice that I can show myself off to other teams, or whatever it takes," Pastornicky said. "It's nice to get out here and get some reps and get ready to go."
After all, Pastornicky knows, he can spend as much time shagging fly balls during batting practice or taking infield grounders before games, but until he gets those game reps, he won't be able to demonstrate what he's capable of.
And with a handful new positions to add to his resume, that means plenty more of those opportunities, and plenty more at-bats.
"It makes him valuable for ourselves, that you can bring him in at second base or could possibly make the team as a utility guy," Gonzalez said. "He can play in the middle in the diamond, run him out in the outfield, and get him some at-bats that way."