May 31, 2012
The situation: While the Braves have had a surprisingly good year offensively -- they rank third in the National League in runs scored -- rookie shortstop Tyler Pastornicky has not played a big part in that. Batting just .248/.281/.324 and struggling defensively, Pastornicky was sent down to Triple-A on Thursday, and the club in turn reached down to Double-A Mississippi for their top positional prospect, Andrelton Simmons.
Background: Many scouts preferred Simmons, a second-round pick in the 2010 draft, as a pitcher; he touched 98 mph in a bullpen role at Western Oklahoma State. While he was generally considered the best defensive shortstop in that year's draft, there were questions as to whether Simmons would hit at all. But he quickly answered them by posting a .311/.351/.408 line at High-A Lynchburg during his full-season debut (2011), and then has proved it was for real with a .272/.372/.421 line at Mississippi so far this year.
What he can do: Any discussion regarding Simmons begins with his defense; he has Gold Glove potential, and is easily one of the best glove men in the minor leagues. He's a quick-twitch athlete with outstanding instincts, soft hands, smooth actions and, needless to say, a cannon for an arm. He's also a surprisingly adept hitter who focuses on contact while showing a much-improved approach at the plate this year. At Mississippi, he has as many walks (20) as strikeouts over 171 at-bats. He's also a plus runner, stealing 26 bases last year and 10 already for the M-Braves in 43 games while being caught just twice (he was gunned down a disturbing 18 times in 2011). Simmons projects as a .280 hitter, but it will be somewhat empty due to his lack of power, but the hope here is his plate discipline and speed can help make up for it.
Immediate big league future: Simmons is the new everyday shortstop in Atlanta, and he should be able to keep the job. Thanks to his outstanding defense, there will be little pressure on him to produce offensively, and for fantasy purposes, his only real value will come in the stolen base category.
Long-term: The Braves envision Simmons as their shortstop for at least the next six years, and in his peak, he could be a defensive stalwart who hits .270-.280 with 20-plus stolen bases. Considering there are currently much fewer than 30 legitimate starting shortstops in the majors, that's a star.
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .