SARASOTA -- Tyler Pastornicky ranged to his right before delivering a pinpoint strike to first base.
It was just a warmup drill, but it’s precisely what some of the veteran Atlanta Braves want from the young shortstop: steady defense.
Guys like Chipper Jones have told Pastornicky, a Bradenton native, to hone his fielding skills because the Atlanta offense is ready to roll.
Pastornicky said the vets are “just trying to take some of the pressure off of me, because of the fact that I try to put too much pressure on myself. It definitely helps when I hear that from the older guys.”
On Thursday, Pastornicky started at shortstop for the Braves as they visited the Baltimore Orioles in Grapefruit League action at Ed Smith Stadium. He went 1-for-3 batting in the ninth spot and raised his spring average to .133.
All the chatter concerning the prized prospect is that he’ll take the field as Atlanta’s starting shortstop on Opening Day.
“I’m just trying to go out there and play hard,” Pastornicky said. “The same mind set I’ve always had. Just trying to keep that and not put pressure on myself. ... I have to go out there and earn it and get some respect from the guys.”
Pastornicky landed with Atlanta after a trade from the Toronto Blue Jays in 2010. Last year, he lived every player’s dream when he was called up to the major league club.
Pastornicky came up for one day, the final game of the season when the Braves lost out on the National League wild card.
Now last season’s Southern League (Double-A) midseason and postseason All-Star, who hit a combined .314 between Double-A and Triple-A ball in 2011, is poised to begin 2012 with the big league club.
Helping make that transition easier is another veteran major leaguer, former Pittsburgh Pirate Jack Wilson, who worked with Pastornicky in the offseason at his California home. Wilson is out until the end of training camp with a calf strain.
“It was great ... to pick his brain like that, because he’s had a successful career; there’s not many things that can help you more than that,” Pastornicky said.
Pastornicky is battling Wilson for the starting shortstop job.
“The kid can play and he works as hard as anybody,” Wilson told the Associated Press. “I watched him and know he has his head in the game. He’s ready for the big leagues.”
Another key to Pastornicky’s quick rise from fifth-round selection in the 2008 first-year player draft to potential Opening Day starter is his beginnings in baseball.
As the son of a Toronto Blue Jays scout, he grew up on the diamond. Pastornicky also attended IMG Academies.
“I think IMG helped me out a lot,” he said. “They put me in some situations to get ready and help me grow up, not only as a baseball player but as a kid as well. ... I think you mature pretty quick when you go to IMG. You’ve got to do it. It’s not a preschool where you sit there and they baby you. You’ve got to get your work done, and it is what you make of it.”
Pastornicky said he needs to work on consistency.
If it improves, Pastornicky might just see his name scratched on the starting lineup card come Opening Day.
It’s also something a former top prospect like Jason Heyward can relate.
“The times I’ve played with him, to me he looks like he’s not trying to control too much at the plate,” Heyward said. “I’m not going to be in his head, yapping at him or what have you. I’m just 22 years old. I just want to see him do well, everybody do well and it works out for everybody. But I’ve just told him, ‘Put up good at-bats. Have fun. It’s baseball, it’s the same game. Don’t outthink things. Don’t outthink yourself.’ And that’s it.”