Every spring, there are a handful of prospects that are so impressive in their respective camps that they put serious consideration in the minds of their managers and general managers of the notion of keeping them on the major league roster when just weeks before the idea seemed completely far-fetched. More often than not, the team ends up restraining the urge of their scouting eye and sending said prospect back to the minors to get the rest of the refinement they know he needs. But every so often, the team's excitement gets the best of them.
In 2010, the Mets were so blown away by Jenrry Mejia's spring training performances, both in early bullpens and on the field in game action, that they opened the year with him in their major league bullpen. That move didn't work out too well. Last season, the Mariners were so enamored with the way Michael Pineda was throwing in March that they opened the year with him in their big league rotation. That move worked out fantastically, and enabled them to finally land Jesus Montero, who they had unsuccessfully coveted for years.
Long story short, the idea of keeping a prospect in the majors earlier than expected doesn't always spell disaster, but it does come with its risks.
Thus far in 2012 spring training, the potential move that's gaining steam is in Braves camp, where the Braves entered their camp with a question mark at short stop, but with the already established notion that the job was Tyler Pastornicky's (above) to lose. With Pastornicky's batting average sitting at .115 on the spring, he's well on his way to doing just that. Adding additional pressure on the Braves has been the stellar play of Andrelton Simmons this spring, who has been taking the Wide World of Sports complex at Braves spring training by storm.
Of course, making a decision of this magnitude based on a spring training batting average would be a snap judgement of atrocioius proportions. But it's not like Simmons is some nobody who burst on the scene this spring out of nowhere. Most pundits agree that while the job may have been Pastornicky's to lose this year, he would, in fact, be moving aside once Simmons was ready to handle the major leagues, a stance that has been stated on a number of occasions, but was proken down in detail by Mark Anderson of FanGraphs.com last week.
It's looking like that may be sooner than expected.
The Braves haven't come out and said anything of the sort, but players are raving about Simmons, especially his defense, and writers that are covering the team are speculating what decisions the Braves might make. David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution contrasts the play of Simmons with the struggles of Pastornicky, with quotes from teammates praising the defensive prowess of Simmons. At the same time, Mark Bowman of MLB.com delves further into Simmons' defensive reputation, saying he might be the best defensive short stop in the entire minor leagues.
The problem is that SImmons has only one full season of professional baseball under his belt. If the team were to make a move like this, it would require Simmons making the jump from the Carolina League to the majors. Simmons hit well in High-A ball last season, but even Bryce Harper got a partial season in Double-A, and the Nationals are still hesitating before promoting him.
No matter his minor league success, there is no argument that could claim that Simmons is ready to hit in the majors. But there is the argument that that doesn't really matter. The Braves are a team that is on the edge of contention in the National League. Even if things went as well as the Braves could have expected for Tyler Pastornicky, they weren't expecting a ton of offensive production out of him. The Braves have eventually entered spirng training stating that they are content having limited offensive production at short stop in exchange for good defense. If that's the recipe they are looking for at a key defensive position, then Simmons actually might be the better choice.
But that's just taking this season into consideration. The Braves must also consider the colladeral damage of promoting Simmons this year. Simmons clearly has a nice career ahead of him. True big league shortstops are hard to find, let along legitimate plus defenders, so if the Braves have one in Simmons, it would be in their best interests to let his bat develop to its fullest extent. If he can be even slightly above-average offensively, coupled with plus defense at short stop, then the Braves would have a potential 3-4 win player on their hands in the Elvis Andrus mold.
The most likely scenario is that Pastornicky bounces back at some point in the next week or two, raises his batting average somewhere above .115, and takes the pressure off of the Braves from having to make a difficult decision. At the moment this is one of those situations that comes up every spring, when a super-talented prospect makes a great impression in big league camp. If Pastornicky continues to struggle, then the Braves might be forced to think outside the box, but for now, the job appears to still be Pastornicky's to lose.