In the years since boasting the likes of Rafael Furcal and Edgar Renteria as its starting shortstop, the Atlanta Braves have been searching for a building block to man the position. Last season, the team handed the duties to rookie Tyler Pastornicky to begin the season, but he proved to be an inadequate starter for the contending Braves, and in mid-June, the team promoted one of its top prospects, Andrelton Simmons, as his replacement. The 22-year old did not disappoint.
Limited to just 49 games thanks to a midseason call-up and a broken hand suffered in July, Simmons dazzled during his abbreviated rookie season. After hitting .299/.352/.397 during his minor league career, Simmons surprised by holding his own during his first exposure to the big leagues. When the season ended, Simmons owned a .289/.335/.416 slash-line to go with an impressive 21/12 K/BB ratio. This kind of offensive production was a shock to many given the questions surrounding his bat's ability to translate to the pro game.
While there was speculation from scouts regarding how his offensive skill set would adjust to the major league-level, there were no such concerns surrounding his glove. Despite the glowing scout reports surrounding his defensive ability, Simmons didn’t disappoint. He amassed a +10 UZR to go with +19 defensive-runs-saved despite his limited playing time. While the caveat regarding one-year samples on defensive metrics applies, those numbers, exaggerated or not, are the signs of something special. It’s already fair to argue that he is the best defensive infielder in all of baseball.
Yesterday, after missing much of spring training while leading the Netherlands on a deep run in the World Baseball Classic, Simmons returned to Braves camp. With many questions surrounding his ability to continue to defy scouting reports of his offensive ceiling, Simmons made a great case to be the daily focus.
Defensively, Simmons went untested until the middle innings, and on the only ball hit his way, he was the victim of an in-between hop off the bat of Andrew McCutchen. The next batter hit a grounder to the first baseman, and Simmons made up for his misplay with perfect positioning on a double-play attempt, taking the ball on the third base side of the bag before firing back to first base for the second out.
Not seeing Simmons’s defensive prowess put to the test was a disappointment, but he made up for it with his offensive results. Leading off the game, Simmons watched a fastball breeze by him on the outside corner. The pitcher hit the same spot with the next pitch, but Simmons didn’t spectate as this one passed. Instead, he hit a wind-aided fly ball off the center field wall for a double. Jason Heyward followed the double with a groundball into shallow right field, and showcasing his quick burst, Simmons managed to score despite coming to a near-stop upon reaching third base.
In his next trip to the plate, Simmons took two strikes to open the at-bat. After fouling off an outside fastball and taking a breaking ball in the dirt, Simmons took an ugly swing at a high and inside fastball that resulted in a pop up in foul territory to the catcher. It was the only time he was retired on the afternoon.
At-bats three and four were the ones where Simmons generated some headlines which likely sent his name skyrocketing up fantasy baseball draft boards. In his third at-bat, on a first pitch breaking ball that hung over the middle of the plate, he hit a line drive home run down the left field line. Simmons added a second home run during his final plate appearance of the day, capping a five-pitch at-bat by taking an off-speed pitch deep, with this one also landing over the left field fence.
During the off-season, Simmons was constantly included in rumors surrounding the package sought by the Arizona Diamondbacks in return for outfielder Justin Upton. The Braves refused to include Simmons in any trade talks, and considering both Atlanta’s ability to land Upton without sacrificing its young shortstop and Simmons’s own growth as a hitter over the past two years, the franchise deserves tremendous credit.
Should Simmons play a full season, he could very well challenge Troy Tulowitzki, who remains the gold standard for offensive talent at the position, as the best all-around shortstop in baseball.