The ability to incorporate youth on the fly, to infuse youth into the lineup to keep it fresh and keep it from getting old all at once, has been a constant in Atlanta.
It's a concept that every team that realistically wants to contend tries to master and one which the Braves seem to have a patent on dating as far back as the early '90s, when they were going from worst-to-first on their way to 14 consecutive division championships
In 2012, the Braves will continue that infusion, but, in doing so, will add a wrinkle that's unprecedented even for them.
When the team lifts the curtain on the 2012 season at Citi Field against the New York Mets, it plans to open with three everyday players at the age of 22 in the starting lineup. Two of those players are well-known, right fielder Jason Heyward (Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2010) and first baseman Freddie Freeman (Rookie of the Year runner-up in 2011). The third will be on the other side of the field, at possibly the most important position on the infield, shortstop.
That's where Tyler Pastornicky is expected to be.
Starting a season with three players below 25 isn't new for the Braves -- they've done it several times since in the last decade -- although never three as young as Heyward, Freeman and Pastornicky.
Starting a rookie at shortstop also is not exactly uncharted territory, as Rafael Furcal and Yunel Escobar have done it since 2000.
Furcal who claimed to be 19, also was 22 when he opened the season and won Rookie of the Year in 2000, while Escobar was 25 when he was Opening Day starter in 2008. Both did the job well, albeit somewhat erratically.
It's fitting that the Bradenton, Fla. native will be the next one to do it. He was acquired in the deal that sent Escobar to Toronto and brought in Gonzalez, who stabilized the position and worked his magic for a year and a half but was allowed to leave as a free agent and signed a one-year deal on Monday with the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Braves feel Pastornicky has earned his shot.
That he is not going to be Gonzalez in the field is something the Braves expect, as there is a limited number of shortstops that fit that qualification.
He probably won't be Gonzalez at the plate either -- at least not last year's Gonzalez, who hit .241 with 15 home runs and 56 RBIs but had a career-high-tying 126 strikeouts (he last did that in 2004). The Braves expect him to be better, and with good reason.
He's always hit and last season, split between Mississippi (Double-A) and Gwinnett (Triple-A), Pastornicky hit .314 with seven homers and 45 RBIs and had only 45 strikeouts with a .359 on-base percentage. In 27 games at Triple-A Gwinnett, he hit .365 (38 hits in 104 at-bats), with a .407 OBP and an .821 OPS.
Obviously, it's a major adjustment from tattooing Double- and Triple-A pitching to even holding one's own at the Major League level. But if the Braves have shown anything with the call-ups in recent years, Heyward in 2010 and Freeman in 2011, it's that their timetable on calling up "players of the future" is usually pretty accurate.
Then there is the mix of professional veterans and quality youngsters inside the clubhouse, which sets up an environment that allows talented rookies to prove themselves and keeps the flames from getting too close even while being thrown into the fire.
So Pastornicky won't be Alex Gonzalez.
He'll get the chance to be Tyler Pastornicky, just like Jason Heyward got the chance to be Jason Heyward, and Freddie Freeman got the chance to be Freddie Freeman. That's just considering the position players.
The pitching staff has done similar great work in transitioning Tommy Hanson, Craig Kimbrel, Brandon Beachy and plans to do so with Randall Delgado, Mike Minor, Julio Teheran and Arodys Vizcaino.
For Pastornicky, that opportunity should be enough.
For the Braves, the train will continue to get younger and should keep on rolling.