By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.READ MORE: Mar-a-Lago search warrant released, reveals FBI seized top-secret classified documents
Andrelton Simmons, Shortstop, Atlanta Braves
2012 season: 49 G, 166 AB, .289 BA, 3 HR, 1 SB, .751 OPS
When word got around last year that Andrelton Simmons had a chance to win the Braves’ starting shortstop job out of Spring Training, it came as a surprise to many people. Simmons was regarded as one of the best prospects in the Braves’ system, but he was still thought to be a year or two away. The kid had only two years of professional experience, never playing above A-ball. It just seemed like there was no way the Braves would make that move – especially with a more seasoned prospect, Tyler Pastornicky, ready to take on that role.
In fact, Simmons didn’t win the Braves’ job out of Spring Training, but he claimed it before long. After hitting .293 with three homers, 10 steals and a .791 OPS in 44 games at Double-A, Simmons got the call to the Majors. He had some injury troubles during the year, including a broken right pinkie finger, but he still managed to put up a line very similar to the one he posted in the minors. Simmons hit for average and very modest power, which is all anybody really expected of him. His lack of steals was surprising, but that is something he will likely remedy as he becomes accustomed to the speed of the big league game.READ MORE: United Airlines Puts $10 Million Behind Plan To Shuttle Customers By Electric Aircraft
Two of the most impressive things about Simmons are his ability to make contact and his willingness to draw a walk. In 131 games at A-ball in 2011, he struck out just 43 times. Last year, he struck out 20 times at Double-A and 21 times in the Majors. He also drew 20 walks at Double-A, though that number dropped to 12 following his promotion. Simmons is never going to have huge power, so it will be important for him to hit for average and take walks; the numbers he’s put up so far indicate that he will likely be able to accomplish those things.
What’s amazing is that Simmons wasn’t even known for his offensive game a year ago. He is an extremely polished shortstop, which is why the Braves pushed him along so quickly – plenty of shortstops in the big leagues are light hitters, but few can play the position as well as Simmons can. Only 23 years old, Simmons has a very bright future in front of him. The native of Curacao is a good bet to win several gold gloves during his career, and he’s shown the ability to stay within himself and make adjustments at the plate. The Braves will be missing one stalwart on the left side of their infield – future Hall-of-Famer Chipper Jones – but they might be witnessing the start of a new era with Simmons at short.
Next up on March 21: Chicago Cubs