Andrelton Simmons began the year in spring training “competition” with Tyler Pastornicky for the starting shortstop job vacated by the jettisoned Alex Gonzalez. I say “competition” because the winner was all but preordained – Pastornicky was higher in the organizational depth chart (Simmons had not yet played at AA) and was going to get the first shot unless he completely fell on his face.
This despite Simmons getting the kind of raves for his defense that no Braves farmhand had received since Rafael Furcal. You could read between the lines of Chipper’s exultations in particular and guess at his preference.
Chipper knew what the Braves organization has historically known – while a young player’s offense may take time to develop, a truly elite defender is ready to take the field in the major leagues right now, virtually regardless of his amount of minor league experience. And so, as with Furcal and Andruw, the Braves promoted Simmons as soon as they were convinced he wouldn’t get the bat knocked out of his hands.
Simmons took his position at shortstop for the first time on June 2….and was immediately the best player in the National League. His June slash line of .333/.365/.522, along with defense that was not only flashy (you’ve seen this play before), but efficient (he converted some crazy percentage of DP opportunities, and despite playing only 1/3 of the season his 2.4 defensive WAR led NL shortstops), probably made a three-win difference to the team’s record in that month alone.
Alas, just as it appeared Simmons was passing Bryce Harper by as NL ROY favorite, he was felled by a broken bone in his hand that was slow to heal, and also missed time with a sprained ankle and sore shoulder. The injuries, along with some regression to the mean, likely contributed to a late-season offensive slide, but he still ended the season at .289/.335/.416, to which you would have said “yes please” at the beginning of the year.
Fredi Gonzalez seems to have red-lighted Andrelton on the basepaths in his rookie season – despite evident speed and willingness to steal (he had 78 SB attempts in 237 minor league games), he only attempted one steal with the big club.
It’s way too early for comps, but I can’t help myself. I get a Tony Fernandez vibe from Simmons – Fernandez was a spidery defender who put the ball in play a lot, and combined above-average speed with above-average line drive percentages. If anything, this might be selling Andrelton a little short defensively, but if I think too much about what his ceiling might be…well, my heart can take only so much excitement.