Simmons' dazzling 'D' leaving strong impression

Simmons' dazzling 'D' leaving strong impression

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Andrelton Simmons spent his first full professional season leading many to believe he was the best defensive shortstop at the Minor League level. The smooth shortstop from Curacao has spent the past couple of weeks wowing everybody in Braves camp, including future Hall of Famers.

"This kid has got it all," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said. "When you haven't played a game above [Class] A ball and everybody who sees you says you're Major League-ready defensively, that's saying something."

When Simmons -- rated by MLB.com as the Braves' fourth-best prospect and the 65th best in the Minors -- arrived to participate in big league camp for the first time three weeks ago, he was recognized as the best shortstop in Atlanta's system. Blessed with great range and a cannon arm, he spent last summer dazzling his Class A-Advanced Lynchburg teammates and Carolina League opponents with a plethora of defensive gems.

Along the way, the 22-year-old infielder eased some doubts about his offensive skills by winning the Carolina League batting title. But with his glove being so special, his offensive accomplishments might always be overshadowed.

"Some of the plays that he makes are just freakish," Braves corner infield prospect Joey Terdoslavich said. "He's a freak. The quickness, the instincts, the arm. There's a reason people talk about his defense the way that they do. It's not just made up."

Simmons has certainly made a solid first impression on many of the teammates, scouts and media members who have seen him for the first time this spring. As a result, members of these groups are now suggesting the Braves might be best served to ditch their plan to begin the year with Tyler Pastornicky as their starting shortstop and give the job to Simmons.

"Defensively, he's ready," Lynchburg manager and former Major Leaguer Luis Salazar said. "This kid is a true shortstop. He's got instincts and he controls the middle of the infield. You can't teach instincts. This kid is unbelievable. He's got natural instincts."

While the Braves have planned to begin this year with Pastornicky as their shortstop, they have not completely ruled out the possibility that Simmons could force them to alter this plan.

With just 839 professional plate appearances under his belt and each of them being recorded below the Double-A level, Simmons could certainly benefit from compiling more at-bats in the Minor Leagues.

But as Simmons continues to show greater range than Pastornicky and hints that he could prove just as effective offensively, the Braves could decide that the team is better with him as the shortstop of an infield that will also include second baseman Dan Uggla and the soon-to-be 40-years-old Jones.

"He's playing for one of the greatest organizations in all of baseball," Salazar said. "They're not afraid to bring young players to the big leagues. They've done it in the past."

When asked to compare Simmons to some of the other players they have seen, Jones and bullpen coach Eddie Perez both quickly mentioned their former teammate Rafael Furcal, who 12 years ago forced the Braves to promote him from the Class A Advanced level to the Majors.

Furcal entered his 2000 National League Rookie of the Year season with just one full professional season under his belt and 1,107 plate appearances. Accounting for the two years added to his originally listed age, he made the jump at the same age (22) that Simmons would.

"I know I still have some stuff to learn," Simmons said. "I'm trying to learn as quickly as I can."

If the Braves had a proven veteran to serve as their shortstop, there would likely be no doubt that Simmons would be targeted to spend at least the first half of the season in the Minors. While he won a batting title last year, he still has not been challenged by the more advanced pitcher he will see at the Double-A level.

But as he watched Simmons serve as his leadoff hitter last year, Salazar gained the sense that the young shortstop already has the ability to find some success at the Major League level with his bat.

"He has no fear," Salazar said. "He loves to play. He doesn't miss a fastball. If you don't miss a fastball, you're going to be able to hit."

Simmons has been an interesting prospect dating back to when the Braves selected him as a pitcher in the second round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. His fastball had been clocked at 98 mph, but he was also considered the top-rated defensive shortstop in that draft.

After talking with Braves officials in the days following the Draft, Simmons gained his wish to begin his career as a position player. There has not since been any talk about him being a pitcher.

"Apparently, I'm doing well," Simmons said with a confident smile.

Jones compares Simmons' confident approach to another Curacao product, Andruw Jones, who roamed Atlanta's outfield from 1996-2007. "He's confident, but he's not outwardly showy," Jones said. "He's like another former player from [Curacao] who knew the game came easy to him. That's fun to watch."

Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.