Staff Photo: Jason Braverman. Tyler Pastornicky is one of the top prospects in the Atlanta Braves farm system. He was recently called up to play for the Gwinnett Braves.
LAWRENCEVILLE -- It didn't take long for Tyler Pastornicky to find some action at the Class AAA level.
Following a late-night call-up from Class AA Mississippi and after making the drab drive from Jackson, Miss., to Lawrenceville, the shortstop buttoned up his new jersey and pulled on his fresh, out-of-the box hat to play shortstop for the Gwinnett Braves.
"I am excited to get it going," he said before the game.
The inning's first ball sent him ranging to his right in time to field the grounder, but not in time to make a play. The inning ended with a pop-up hauled in by the 21-year-old. His next trip to the field, he picked up his first Class AAA error, and in the bottom half of the second popped out in the infield. In his final at-bat he singled, ending the game 1-for-3.
The hit became a prelude of things to come; the defense, an aberration.
He did commit an error the next day, a throwing error trying to double a runner off second base after snagging a line drive, but since then he's been error-free and on a tear.
"There were definitely a little nerves," Pastornicky said. "When you get called up you want to come in here and impress your new teammates. I was definitely a little nervous but they made me feel comfortable. Everybody has made me feel as comfortable as possible."
He's been more than comfortable.
In 10 games since joining the G-Braves, Pastornicky is hitting .439 with three RBIs and four stolen bases primarily as the No. 2 hitter. His OPS is .941 and he is slugging .463. He has a hit in 9 of the 10 games and has multiple hits in seven. He hit a game-winning, bases-loaded single on July 21, in his third Class AAA game, and followed that with three hits the next day and scored a pair of runs.
"Being able to do something like that for the new team it's a good way to break yourself into the new team," he said of his game-winning single. "It was a lot of fun. There is nothing like getting walk-off hit."
Well, winning comes close.
When Pastornicky made the drive from Mississippi to Georgia, he drove from a team mired in losing into a playoff race. The G-Braves entered Saturday tied for first in the International League's South Division. The Mississippi Braves are 22 games out and in last place.
"It's tough when you are losing. It's kind of like a disease, we couldn't get rid of it," Pastornicky said. "Coming up here and playing on a winning team, you get that feeling going."
A career .263 hitter in five minor league seasons, Pastornicky entered this year as one of the Braves highly-regarded prospects. The Bradenton, Fla., native signed out of high school with the Toronto Blue Jays as a fifth-round draft pick in 2008. He chose to sign instead of attending Florida State. In three seasons with the Blue Jays he climbed up to their high-A Dunedin team before coming to the Braves as one of the minor leaguers in the trade for shortstop Alex Gonzalez. Atlanta immediately promoted him to Class AA Mississippi where he played 38 games at the end of 2010. As a non-roster invitee to spring training, Pastornicky wasn't cut until the final two days, joining the Braves at Turner Field for the final two exhibitions before heading to Mississippi. And a return to AA wasn't a disappointing assignment.
"I only had half a year in double-A and I was still only 21 so I was thinking I still needed some time down there," he said after his call-up to Gwinnett. "I really didn't (see the call-up coming). I was just trying to keep playing and have a good year."
Entering this season, Pastornicky wanted to stay consistent, especially on offense. During his first few minor-league seasons the right-hander was prone to hot and cold streaks.
"The big thing for me this year was trying to stay consistent through the whole year," he said. "I am just trying to stay even through the whole year."
He left Mississippi hitting .299 and after 10 games is hitting .313 on the season. Even across to minor league levels he's stayed consistent. Except for wins and losses, he's on the plus side in those categories.
"It's fun to play on a winning team and it's fun to play when you are winning," he said.