Andrelton Simmons To The Big Leagues? Let’s Slow Down A Bit


At this late point in the spring, the roster pictures for the 30 MLB teams are starting to take some semblance of shape. Many top prospects have already been sent down, even those that have impressed, like Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte. One prospect who notably hasn’t been sent down yet is Atlanta’s Andrelton Simmons, who has dazzled observers with his highly-touted defensive chops this spring.

Atlanta’s shortstop situation is in flux at the moment. Like any team, they’d rather not give 500 ABs to Jack Wilson, and prospect Tyler Pastornicky, who most assumed would be the starter, has just five singles and a walk in 37 plate appearances this spring, adding fuel to the idea that the 22-year-old with just 27 Triple-A games isn’t ready.

But is Simmons the answer on Opening Day? I believe the answer is a resounding no.

Look, Andrelton Simmons spent 2011 in High-A ball. He played pretty well down there–he was the Carolina League batting champion (.311) for what it’s worth, and he also received glowing reviews on defense. The average wasn’t fluky, as he struck out just 43 times in 131 games and consistently stung the ball, ripping 35 doubles and six triples despite clearing the fence just once.

That’s all good stuff, and it makes him a nice prospect. But there were better prospects in High-A last year–Manny Machado, Trevor May, Carlos Martinez, Zack Wheeler, Jonathan Singleton, Michael Choice, Gary Brown, and Jean Segura, just to name a few. And nobody’s calling for them to make it to the majors.

Really–and I know this might sound like a bit of a simplistic view–there’s not a single prospect in High-A or below that I’d advocate as a guy to jump straight to the majors. The closest I’d think of would be somebody like Mike Olt or Nolan Arenado, who both crushed the Arizona Fall League, but I’d like to see even those guys prove themselves at least for a few weeks in the upper minors. Yes, it’s possible for a player to make the huge jump successfully–several Rule 5 picks have, and Albert Pujols famously did–but I wouldn’t endorse such a move in all but the rarest of occasions.

And let’s not run away with the Simmons hype train in general. He’s a fine prospect, one who probably falls between #75 and #150 on most analysts’ prospect rankings, but he’s not without flaws. He really doesn’t offer a whole lot beyond his ability to make contact and dazzle in the field. In fact, let’s do a little Player A/Player B:

Player A: .325/.345/.377 in High-A at age 20, plus defense, 18-for-28 in steals
Player B: .311/.351/.408 in High-A at age 21, plus defense, 26-for-44 in steals

Both players are low-efficiency basestealing threats with high contact rates and little in the way of power or patience. Player B has slightly more power and patience, but was a year older in High-A, so depending on your viewpoint, you can slightly prefer either one, but they’re pretty comparable.

Player A is Alcides Escobar. Player B is Simmons.

Escobar was promoted to Double-A in the second half of that season and ended up spending roughly 2 1/2 more years in the minors after that promotion, and when he finally reached the majors full-time in 2010, he hit all of .235/.288/.326. And Escobar was a more highly-regarded prospect than Simmons.

If Simmons–or really any low-minors middle infielder not named Machado or Profar–can end up as an Escobar-type player in three years, he’ll be a developmental success. After all, Escobar was a 2.2 WAR player in 2011 as a 24-year-old shortstop and just got a four-year contract extension this week.

The idea that Simmons is going to even approach Escobar’s performance without a significant number of at-bats in the upper-minors, however, strikes me as only slightly less out-there than the Giants’ decision to start Brian Bocock at shortstop on Opening Day 2008.

It would be one thing if Simmons was tearing it up with the bat this spring. But he’s not–as of this writing, he’s 6-for-26 with a triple, two walks, and five strikeouts, good for a .231/.286/.308 line. Spring training stats are nearly meaningless for a variety of reasons, but there’s absolutely no evidence in Simmons’ statistical track record that he’s going to have any ability to hit major league pitching in April 2012. At least if he was hitting .350, one could at least construct a “he’s made adjustments this spring and is tearing it up” argument. But no–Simmons’ performance this spring is exactly in line with what one would expect–he’s put the ball in play decently, gotten the occasional single, and played highlight-reel defense.

Pastornicky, of course, had a near-identical batting line to Simmons in 2011–.314/.359/.414–only his came in Double-A and Triple-A and he’s actually slightly younger than Simmons.  Like Simmons, Pastornicky is an extreme contact hitter who rarely strikes out–his K/BB ratio (45/32) was very similar to Simmons’ as well (43/29).

Going into spring training, there was no reason to believe Simmons was more ready, at least on the offensive side of the ball. And while Pastornicky has not impressed as far as hits go, he’s really been the sort of hitter he’s always been–in 37 plate appearances, he’s struck out all of three times. His batting average on balls in play is .152. Spring stats are meaningless as it is, but a guy’s BABIP in 37 PAs in exhibition games takes “meaningless” to a whole new level.

None of this is to say that Pastornicky is guaranteed to succeed for Atlanta in 2012, or that Simmons won’t go on to a long and productive career. But the evidence has always pointed strongly toward Pastornicky being the no-brainer Opening Day shortstop, and I see little if any reason to think otherwise on the basis of their spring outings.

For more on the Braves, check out Tomahawk Take.

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