Simmons went to college close to home at Southeast Missouri State University. He initially pitched out of the bullpen as the team's closer, but ended his collegiate career as a starting pitcher for the Redhawks. Simmons didn't set the world on fire, however, finishing with a 7-4 record, a 4.50 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 82 innings as a starter in his third year. But he impressed scouts. The Braves selected Simmons in the 22nd round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft.
Nothing about that is unusual.
What is a bit unusual is how quickly Simmons flew through the Atlanta's Minor League system and earned a promotion to the Major League club. Almost exactly two years after being selected by the Braves, he is already pitching in the big leagues. Generally, we hear about first- or second-round Draft picks ascending to the big leagues relatively quickly -- but not a 22nd-round selection. Not after only throwing 101 Minor League innings and skipping an assignment to Triple-A altogether.
But not many pitchers are like Simmons. He is pitching very well as an important component of the Braves' bullpen. Atlanta is using Simmons in a role in which he can excel -- coming out of the bullpen to face a limited number of hitters. Simmons appears comfortable in that role.
I first scouted Simmons in the 2013 Arizona Fall League. He was outstanding. Simmons had just completed a season at Class A Rome, where he had a 1.49 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP in 42 1/3 relief innings. Simmons then went to Double-A Mississippi, where he pitched 11 innings in 11 games and threw to a 2.45 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. Simmons saved 24 games for Rome. He dominated at both levels.
In the Fall League, Simmons pitched an additional nine games, tossing 10 innings of relief and compiling a stellar 0.90 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP. The only blemishes were his seven walks. But Simmons did strike out 13 batters while yielding only one run.
Simmons is rated as the No. 17 on Atlanta's Top 20 Prospect list.
Some say that the 5-foot-11, 175-pound Simmons is not big enough or strong enough to work in the back end of the bullpen. I disagree. He has an extremely loose arm with velocity that continues to increase. There have been times in Simmons' career where he has been able to hit 100 mph. But Simmons can generally vary his velocity, anywhere from 94 to 98 mph with his sinking fastball. Simmons is not easily intimidated. Adding and subtracting velocity and changing speeds are crucial components in his plan for attacking hitters.
Using the fastball as the base of a three-pitch repertoire, Simmons seems more concerned with throwing strikes and dispatching hitters than adding pitches to his arsenal. As a reliever, Simmons can rely on inducing a high number of ground balls with the late-moving sinker. He changes the balance of hitters by using an excellent side-to-side slider in addition to an occasional changeup.
When I saw Simmons pitch in a big league game recently, his command and control were impeccable. He threw strikes. Simmons hit the corners and missed bats, while hitters had a tough time catching up with his fastball.
The Braves can use Simmons anywhere in the closing three innings of a game with confidence. He is consistent in his mechanics, consistently finishing his pitches and getting the most from his three pitches. There is a bit of effort in Simmons' delivery, as he tries to maximize results from his smallish frame.
As he has shown to date by moving so quickly in Atlanta's organization, Simmons has upside remaining in his ability to add confidence, sophistication and even better results in the future.