Prospect of the Day: Andrelton Simmons, SS, Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves have promoted shortstop Andrelton Simmons from the minors, replacing Tyler Pastornicky up the middle. Simmons has had an excellent 2012 campaign thus far, but is he ready for a major league job?
Simmons is from Curacao, but attended college at Western Oklahoma State Junior College. There, he thrived as both a pitcher and infielder, prompting the Braves to select him in the second round of the 2010 draft. Many teams preferred him as a pitcher due to his cannon arm, but he wanted to play every day and the Braves obliged. Simmons responded to their faith by hitting .276/.340/.356 in 62 games in the Appalachian League, stealing 18 bases in 22 attempts.
After an impressive spring training in 2011, Simmons skipped a development level and went to Lynchburg in the High-A Carolina League, where he won the league batting title with a .311/.351/.408 line. Although he hit just one homer, he knocked 35 doubles, stole 26 bases, and fanned just 43 times in 517 at-bats. Promoted to Double-A Mississippi for 2012, he's been excellent thus far with a .292/.372/.421 mark, with 10 steals in 12 attempts along with an impressive 20/20 BB/K ratio in 200 plate appearances.
Simmons is a 6-2, 170 pound right-handed hitter and thrower, born September 4th, 1989. He has first-class athleticism with an outstanding throwing arm, slightly above-average running speed, and an excellent combination of quickness, range, and instincts at shortstop. He's dramatically improved his fielding reliability this year, making just four errors in 43 games this season. Combine the lower error rate with his range and arm strength, and you have a superior defensive player. He's also greatly improved his baserunning and will be a threat on the bases.
The main question for Simmons pre-season was his bat. Although he made good contact last season in High-A, he was impatient and didn't draw many walks. He's still not a free pass machine, but his walk rate has doubled this year, without any serious increase in strikeouts. He has solid bat speed and, while he's not going to be a big home run hitter, he's hardly punchless and should show more gap power with maturity.
The biggest warning sign for Simmons is simple lack of experience. He's made a lot of progress over the last year and clearly has the tools to be a regular major league shortstop, but with just 43 games of Double-A under his belt, and no Triple-A experience at all, promoting him now is a risk. That said, Simmons is actually two months older than Pastornicky, and has much higher upside. Simmons may have some growing pains as he adjusts to the majors, but is likely to be the long-term solution.