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Scouting the AFL: Tyler Pastornicky profile

Here are the stats of two major leaguers from the 2010 season:

Player A: 588 ABs, .265 AVG, 0 HRs, 35 RBIs, 88 runs, 32 SBs
Player B: 508 ABs, .250 AVG, 6 HRs, 46 RBIs, 64 runs, 29 SBs

Both of these players are shortstops, and while it might seem that neither guy brought much to the fantasy table this season, other than the stolen bases, Elvis Andrus (Player A) and Cliff Pennington (Player B) ranked ninth and 14th, respectively, on our Player Rater among shortstops.

As I mentioned in a brief note last Friday, Atlanta Braves shortstop prospect Tyler Pastornicky, who was acquired from the Blue Jays as part of the Yunel Escobar/Alex Gonzalez trade, wasn't really on my radar screen entering this year's Arizona Fall League. He has good speed, but there are questions as to whether he's going to hit well enough to stick as a regular at the big league level. However, my opinion of Pastornicky has been changing somewhat in light of some new context. First of all, there's a relative lack of shortstop depth among the minor league prospects right now, especially ones we're fairly certain are going to be able to stick at the position. Also, who's to say what teams view as "acceptable offense" from the position if the player brings other things to the table? Not having a true gauge of that, Pastornicky probably becomes a deep steals sleeper. After all, Pennington came seemingly out of nowhere to provide a useful fantasy season this year, and Pastornicky could eventually do the same.

Pastornicky, a fifth-round choice in the 2008 draft out of a Florida high school, will turn just 21 in December. He's only 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, without much growth projected. The son of a former big leaguer and current scout, Pastornicky has good baseball instincts and makeup, but he also has good athleticism and the fleet feet and defensive ability that could allow him to stick in the majors.

For fantasy purposes, just as Andrus and Pennington created their 2010 value mostly with their feet, Pastornicky could as well. He stole 27 bags in 50 games after being signed in '08, 57 bases in 124 games in Class A in 2009, and went 35-for-44 in 2010 across two levels. He grades out as a 70 runner on the 20-to-80 scouting scale, and admits he's still learning the nuances of the running game.

"Before I would just run, and I didn't really know what I was doing," Pastornicky said. "I'm starting to get a better idea of when the best times are to run, learning the pitchers and understanding counts more."

What will also help Pastornicky's case for a lineup spot is his defense. He has quick reactions, good shortstop actions, good range and a solid arm (he threw in the low 90s when he pitched in high school). Given his potential to be a plus defender at a premium position and create havoc on the basepaths, the bar for his offensive output is a little lower for him in terms of securing a full-time job at the major league level.

Pastornicky is still developing as a hitter. He has hit .263, .269 and .257, respectively, over the past three seasons, without posting an on-base percentage of .350. That said, there is still room for growth, and after hitting two homers in his first two seasons, he at least showed a little bit of pull power this year, cracking eight in 421 at-bats.

Although he's a single-digit-homer hitter, he has a simple line-drive stroke to all fields, with quick hands and good balance, and he has good strike-zone judgment. His swing will get a little too long at times, and he might need to alter his approach a bit. He's generally always looking for fastballs and trying react to off-speed stuff. But as he continues to develop, if he can hit in the .265-.280 range at the major league level with a .330-.340 on-base percentage (which he is capable of doing), that could work, given his other skills. For instance, Pennington posted just a .319 on-base percentage to go with his .250 batting average. Although it certainly helps, veteran fantasy owners know that players don't have to put up a premium on-base percentage to rack up steals. Just look at Rajai Davis' 50 swipes with a .320 OBP last year.

I wasn't expecting much from Pastornicky coming into the AFL, and yes, his fantasy value is going to be entirely about getting enough playing time to use his wheels. But decent shortstop prospects are in limited supply and in high demand in many dynasty formats, and that means Pastornicky deserves our attention.

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