It’s tempting to sigh and resign oneself to the fact that some players are “all glove no hit” and that Cristian Pache falls squarely into that category.
Here’s a guy whose big league career so far has produced almost epic levels of offensive fail: a .156/.205/.234 slash line good for an “is that even possible?” 26 wC+. And even his minor league stats have been downright pedestrian, sometimes above average but sometimes below and only one (AA in 2019) anything special (.278/.340/.474, 134 wRC+, when his stock peaked).
Then there’s the eyeball test that shows Pache too eager to swing, unable to lay off chase pitches, and inclined to beat most everything he does hit into the ground somewhere. Pache is out of options and that means “fish or cut bait” — either the A’s commit to carrying him on the big league roster all season or they get ready to say goodbye hoping that Esteury Ruiz has made Pache obsolete.
I’m here to argue that the A’s need to commit fully to Pache for 2023 for a variety of reasons and here they are. Among them are not Pache’s 34 spring training plate appearances, a small sample against mostly inferior pitching. Sure he’s batting a pleasant .364/382/.515, but he has also walked just once and after a fun run of K-less PAs has fanned thrice in the past few days. It’s spring training and you don’t want to go overboard making big decisions on tiny misleading samples.
So why take the plunge and be “all in” on Pache?
The A’s are in a deep rebuild and the timing lines up just right to use 2023 for a player you hope can rise and contribute to a contending team in 2024 and beyond. It’s the right year to give 1B to Ryan Noda, who cannot be optioned, and it’s the right year to see what Pache can do with a full season of opportunities.
If Pache tanks, you have a fall back which is that he still makes for an outstanding 4th OFer thanks to his elite defense and plus speed. If all he can give you is a platoon bat, a defensive replacement, and a pinch runner, that’s still a useful roster member and it’s worst case scenario. His presence on the roster isn’t going to cost the 2023 Oakland A’s a post-season berth.
While Pache is somewhat unlikely to reach his ceiling, the upside of his skill set is significant. Here’s a guy who already offers gold glove level defense at a premium defensive position, and that should not be taken lightly.
As a center-fielder, Pache is really, really good. He rated the coveted 80 as a minor leaguer, and like Matt Chapman upon reaching the big leagues he quickly showed why he received all those accolades. You don’t have to watch for long to appreciate how good Pache is in CF. He’s special.
As for his bat, there is power to be tapped into (double digit HR numbers in 2019 and 2021), and even in MLB his exit velocities have belied his putrid results. He has shown an ability to hit to all fields and his speed promises to produce more than his fair share on infield hits.
More to the point, if Pache can just “hit enough” he’s a very valuable starter. Consider Kevin Kiermaier, who in 2015 parlayed a 97 wRC+ and elite CF defense into 4.3 WAR. Or Jarrod Dyson, whose 2016 season produced just an 86 wRC+ yet was worth 2.6 WAR thanks to his defensive prowess.
The Fuson Factor
Grady Fuson is the curmudgeonly scout who is famous for opening trashing his own prospects when he thinks it’s warranted. It’s refreshing, the antidote to the beloved Billy Owens who has never met an A’s prospect over whom he couldn’t gush just a little.
Grady is a “tell it like it is” interview who will tell you why Austin Beck will never amount to anything (he has been right so far) or why Jordan Diaz isn’t worth getting excited about (hopefully he turns out to be wrong on this one).
So when Grady doesn’t trash a player, especially one who is an easy target, you tend to want to take notice. And Grady has been surprisingly measured about Pache, suggesting he might be one of those prospects who takes an extra couple of years to figure it out at the plate.
The last thing you want, when you’re trying to build a team with high upside on low payroll, is to give up prematurely on a player who is about to figure it out. Pache is still just 24 and if he is going to get his swing, his patience, and his pitch recognition sorted out at age 26 the smartest thing Oakland can do is to endure the frustrating at bats for another year or two so they can be the team to benefit from his blossoming — right when the team is aiming to be highly competitive again.
Now it’s possible that Esteury Ruiz could emerge as an offensive weapon who takes to CF so well he makes Pache expendable. But we’re a long way from there, and Ruiz needs a season to try to prove himself and that’s the same season the A’s need to commit to Pache.
So essentially they will be tracking the progress — or lack thereof — of each concurrently and by this winter you would expect some things to be taking shape. But right now both are enigmas shrouded in mystery and the time to draw conclusions is not now.
Give Pache 2023 and remember that his epiphanies, if you internal curmudgeon is right, might be yet to come. You have little to lose to keep Pache throughout 2023 and potentially much to gain. And if it just looks like “same old same old” while Ruiz demonstrates exactly why the A’s valued him so highly, then so be it.
But the time to give up on Pache is not now. At least not in this blogger’s ever so humble opinion.