The Braves’ future at shortstop is now.
The team called defensive whiz Andrelton Simmons from Double-A Mississippi to replace rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky, who was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett after Wednesday night’s win against St. Louis.
Simmons, 22, will make his major league debut with a start in Friday’s series opener at Washington.
Pastornicky hit .248 with eight extra-base hits (one homer), a .281 on-base percentage and two stolen bases in 44 games for the Braves. He slumped recently and had seven errors and the lowest fielding percentage among major league shortstops.
“We needed more,” Braves general manager Frank Wren said of Pastornicky’s defense.
Simmons, who is in his first full season of pro ball, hit .292 with 14 extra-base hits (three home runs), a .372 OBP and 10 stolen bases in 43 games at Mississippi before Wednesday. A second-round pick in the 2010 draft, the Curacao native wowed Braves players and coaches with his spectacular defense as a non-roster invitee at major league spring training.
“He has special talents [at shortstop],” Wren said of Simmons, who has uncommonly fluid movements and reactions on defense, and was a part-time closer in junior college with a fastball clocked at 98 mph.
“Once the reports started coming in so glowingly that he was handling that [Double-A] level so well, we started at least giving it some thought as to when would be the right time, and we continued to call this week and everyone in player development that [assistant GM] Bruce [Manno] talked to said he’s ready.”
Pastornicky was 2-for-22 with one walk and three errors in his past eight games, after hitting .290 with five RBIs in his previous 18 games.
“It’s really disappointing,” Pastornicky said after being told he was optioned. “I feel like I can help the team, but it’s just something where they feel like I need some more work. They have every right to do that….
“I think it’s probably more defensively than it is anything else. I haven’t played my best defensively. It’s been kind of a grind, even with spring training. I wasn’t where I wanted to be defensively.”
Wren said Pastornicky had met expectations offensively, batting mostly in the eighth spot in the lineup. He said the rookie had also made strides defensively, though obviously not enough or he wouldn’t be getting sent down.
“We saw a lot of improvement from spring training,” Wren said. “We saw a lot of areas where he really stepped up. We just felt like right now, we needed a little more and so there’s some areas he could stand to improve. We think he’s got a real good chance to be a real good major league player but right now we think he needs more work….
“He’s always been an offensive performer. He got a lot of key hits for us, a lot of great at-bats. Batting in the eighth spot which is not an easy spot. He did a good job. And so defensively we want him to just continue to work.”
Simmons won the Carolina League batting title with a .311 average last season at high Class-A Lynchburg, easing some concerns about whether his bat would ever begin to catch up with his defense.
He looked overmatched at the plate at times during spring training while competing with Pastornicky for the shortstop job, but his defense drew attention and praise from the first day of camp.
“He’s got it,” third baseman Chipper Jones said midway through spring training. “He’s major league-ready defensively, there’s no doubt about that. When everybody says that he’s major league-ready defensively, they’re saying it for a reason.”
Simmons has shown enough in his first year at Double-A to convince Braves officials that he can hit enough to at least keep his head above water in the majors, despite having only 20o plate appearances above the Class-A level and none in Triple-A.
Some scouts believe he will immediately be one of the best defensive shortstops in the National League.
“He’s played extremely well at Double-A,” Wren said. “He’s done everything and more we would expect. He’s swinging the bat well, he has more walks than strikeouts. His plate discipline is improving, and the reports have been glowing. I think the way the manager and the hitting coach there and our roving instructors talked in recent days going through, I think it was enough that we felt he would help us.”