He knows plenty of people questioned his decision to play shortstop instead of pitch in pro ball, and has heard some scouts and other so-called experts doubt whether he will be able to hit against more advanced pitching.
That made his 2011 success that much more gratifying for Braves shortstop prospect Andrelton Simmons, who hit .311 with a .351 on-base percentage at high-A Lynchburg, winning the Carolina League batting title by a whopping 21-point margin in his first full season in the minors.
“I heard the positives and I definitely heard the negatives, the doubts,” said Simmons, an amiable sort who is from Andruw Jones’ island homeland of Curacao. “I always knew I was capable and just keep doing what I do. I make my adjustments and it worked out pretty good.”
A second-round draft pick in 2010 out of Western Oklahoma State Junior College, Simmons turned 22 in September. At short-season Danville in 2010, he hit .276 with a .340 OBP and 14 extra-base hits in 239 at-bats.
He raised his average 35 points at Lynchburg, where he hit only one homer in 517 at-bats (131 games) but had 35 doubles and six triples. He drew a meager 29 walks, but Simmons also struck out just 43 times in 2011 and has 57 strikeouts in 756 at-bats of minor-league ball.
Not bad for a kid whose best tools are in the field, where he has a cannon or an arm and extremely quick hands. In Baseball America’s midseason survey of Carolina League managers, Simmons was voted the league’s best defensive shortstop, most exciting player and best infield arm.
In the current issue of Baseball America, he’s rated the fourth-best Carolina League prospect.
The Braves have a shortstop ahead of him, Tyler Pastornicky, who excelled in a Triple-A stint and could compete for a major league job in 2012. Simmons needs to continue developing, but the strides he made this past season showed he’s a legitimate prospect at shortstop.
As a college freshman in 2010, he also pitched 20 innings and featured a fastball clocked as high as 98 mph. The Braves considered making him a pitcher, but Simmons wanted to play every day and be a shortstop.
While he knows that pitching could be a fallback if his position-player dream doesn’t work out, his 2011 season only strengthened Simmons’ confidence and determination to make it as a shortstop.
“I don’t mind closing a game; I like that feeling,” he said, smiling. “But I want to be out there [playing] every day.”
After hitting .304 with a .339 OBP and .720 OPS before the All-Star break, Simmons hit .319 with a .363 OBP and .799 OPS after the break, including .351 with 16 extra-base hits, 15 RBIs in 31 games during August and September.
He closed out the year with four consecutive multi-hit games, and finished with a .345 average and .850 OPS in 110 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
“Getting my at-bats in, I got time to figure out what I was doing and what I needed to do,” he said. “I had a rough start, then I figured out my mistakes pretty much and fixed them. I’ve still got stuff to work on, but I’m feeling pretty comfortable at the plate right now. I think it’s only going to get better.”
The knock on the 6-foot-2 right-handed hitter was that his swing was too long and would need to be shortened as he climbed the minor league ladder. He worked on that this year.
“Little by little I shortened up my swing,” Simmons said. “I started letting the ball get deeper and using quicker hands instead of just trying to swing hard. It worked out. It’s working out. Staying short, within myself.”
♣ Arizona Fall League update: After struggling in his AFL debut, Braves first-round draft pick Sean Gilmartin has impressed in subsequent outings and allowed only one run in nine innings in his past two starts.
The lefty has yielded six hits and one walk with eight strikeouts in those past two games, and is 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA after four AFL starts. He has 14 strikeouts and three walks in 16 innings.
The 28th overall pick in this year’s draft, Gilmartin time for six minor league starts after signing with the Braves, posting a 3.09 ERA while piling up 31 strikeouts with a mere two walks in 23-1/3 innings.
After one rough Gulf Coast-league start following his layoff during contract negotiations, he went 2-1 with a 2.53 ERA in five starts at Class-A Rome, with 30 strikeouts in 21-1/3 innings.
I found some video of Gilmartin warming up with fellow Braves prospect Christian Bethancourt in a recent fall league game for the Surprise Saguaros. He’s not facing batters, but at least you can see Gilmartin’s basic mechanics by clicking here.
By the way, Bethancourt has also impressed in a few of his early AFL games. The strong-armed catcher has hit .333 (12-for-36) with two doubles, a homer and five RBIs in nine games.
He was rated the No. 10 prospect in the Carolina League after spending about half the season there and the other half at Rome. Bethancourt, who turned 20 in September, hit .289 with five homers, 53 RBIs and a .304 OBP in 99 games combined between the two stops, drawing just 11 walks in 410 plate appearances. His mobility, arm and overall defensive skills make him a legit prospect.
Meanwhile, Braves first-base prospect Joey Terdoslavich continued to lead the AFL batting race with a .462 average (16-for-36) in 10 games through Monday, with three doubles, two triples, a home run, seven RBIs and a .512 OBP. His 1.230 OPS ranked second in the prospect-laden league.
Terdoslavich broke a six-decades-old Carolina League record this year with 52 doubles, to go with 20 homers, 82 RBIs and a .286 average and .867 OPS in 131 games. A sixth-round draft pick in 2010 out of Long Beach State, he was moved from third base to first base this season, and the Braves have discussed moving him to left field (they obviously don’t plan on needing a first baseman for quite a few years; see: Freddie Freeman).
♣ Beer ban? More fallout from Red Sox fried chicken-and-beer fiasco. Well, actually, the fried chicken eating had nothing to do with it, but the alleged serial beer drinking in the clubhouse during games by several Red Sox starting pitchers (obviously not those pitching those days) has led MLB executive VP of baseball operations Joe Torre to consider banning alcohol in all clubhouses. He said it’ll have to be looked into. I’m sure a few players around the league might have some chiding for Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Jon Lester if drinking beer is banned altogether from clubhouses, including postgame, simply because those three imbibed regularly during games.
About half the teams in baseball currently allow alcohol. Other than a few players sipping a cold one from time to time after games, I haven’t seem much of it from the Braves over the years.
♣ OK, let’s get this posted. I’ll update in next couple of days about some matters involving current Braves. They still haven’t decided, or at least aren’t ready to announce, whether they’re picking up options on Eric Hinske or Nate McLouth, though it’s been obvious for quite some time that the Braves would not be picking up McLouth’s $10.65 million option for 2012 (it has a $1.25 million buyout).
Hinske has a $1.5 million option with a $100,000 buyout. Although his production slipped in 2011, the veteran utility man is a strong clubhouse presence and team leader with versatility that is not easy to find at that price. If he bounces back with a season like 2010, the Braves could look bad if he’s doing it for another team if they passed on a modest $1.5 mill option.
♣ Music that’s good: Fans of early Johnny Cash boom-chicka-boom sound, you gotta hear Dale Watson’s new CD, The Sun Sessions. Great stuff. One of the best country albums of the year.
By the way, another of the best is Indestructible Machine, the second CD by 21-year-old Lydia Loveless. She’s sort of like Neko Case with a harder rockin’ sound.
And finally, I highly recommend Tom Waits’ newest, Bad As Me, to any fans of the genius troubadour. Came out today, and to me it’s his best studio album since 1999’s Mule Variations. (Not counting the excellent three-CD Orphans set of outtakes in 2006.)
We’ll close this with some old Waits, from way back, which you can hear (and see) performed by clicking here.
“SHORE LEAVE” by Tom Waits
Well with buck shot eyes and a purple heart
I rolled down the national stroll
and with a big fat paycheck
strapped to my hip sack
and a shore leave wristwatch underneath
in a Hong Kong drizzle on Cuban heels
I rowed down the gutter to the Blood Bank
and I’d left all my papers on the Ticonderoga
and was in a bad need of a shave
and so I slopped at the corner on cold chow mein
and shot billards with a midget
until the rain stopped
and I bought a long sleeved shirt
with horses on the front
and some gum and a lighter and a knife
and a new deck of cards (with girls on the back)
and I sat down and wrote a letter to my wife
and I said Baby, I’m so far away from home
and I miss my Baby so
I can’t make it by myself
I love you so
Well I was pacing myself
trying to make it all last
squeezing all the life
out of a lousy two day pass
and I had a cold one at the Dragon
with some Filipino floor show
and talked baseball with a lieutenant
over a Singapore sling
and I wondered how the same moon outside
over this Chinatown fair
could look down on Illinois
and find you there
and you know I love you Baby
and I’m so far away from home
and I miss my Baby so
I can’t make it by myself
I love you so
– David O’Brien, Braves/MIB blog