When the Braves drafted Simmons in the 2nd round in 2010, they were excited about getting another high octane pitching arm, as the Curacao native can thrown 95mph off the mound, but Simmons wouldn't sign with the team unless they allowed him to try playing shortstop first. So far, Simmons is putting his bat where his mouth is, following up a solid debut year with Rookie level Danville by winning a batting title for High A Lynchburg, hitting .311 with a .759 OPS, 35 doubles, 52 RBI, and 26 stolen bases.
The Braves wanted Simmons as a pitcher because they weren't convinced he could hit, but so far he's shown himself to be fantastic at making contact, with a .300 batting average over 839 professional plate appearances, while only striking out in 8% of his at bats. The down side of this high contact approach is that he doesn't walk much, walking in just 5% of his plate appearances. He doesn't have much pop, hitting just 1 home run this season, though he did smack out 35 doubles, an incredibly encouraging sign for his future. Still, Simmons is very skinny, and doesn't have a ton of body strength, which leads to doubts about his ability to drive the ball at the higher levels. He's a quick baserunner, though he needs to get better at knowing when to swipe a bag, getting caught in 18 of his 44 attempts. Defensively, he is one of the best shortstops in the game, with phenomenal range, unreal reflexes, and an absolute cannon for an arm. He did make 28 errors this season, but many of those were made on balls that other shortstops couldn't even get to.
Simmons will move up to AA Mississippi as a 22 year old in 2012, and it will be his biggest challenge yet. As encouraging as his work to this point has been, the doubts about his bat won't be fully quelled until he proves himself against experience, upper level pitching. At worst, Simmons can develop into alike player, who wins Gold Glove after Gold Glove but looks atrocious at the plate. His defense will always make him valuable asset, and if his bat can be remotely league average he'll be an every day Major League shortstop for 15 seasons. And, if worst comes to worst, he could always take that big arm to the mound and become a dominating reliever. 2012 will be a big year for Simmons, if he can have another offensive season like 2011 he could become Atlanta's top prospect.
At that time we ranked him the second best middle infield prospect in the Braves system, behind the guy he is replacing, Tyler Pastornicky. The thinking behind that was based on highest level completed and age. Pastornicky was two levels higher than Simmons in the minors, and is actually a few months younger than Simmons. Not everyone was convinced that Simmons' bat was for real after only playing the field full time for the past year and a half.
After an impressive spring, and a seamless transition to double-A (regarded as the toughest jump in the minor leagues), Simmons has quieted the skeptics both inside and outside the Braves organization. He has improved his plate discipline, cut down on his errors, and kept him batting average high -- everything the Braves wanted him to do when they gave him time to develop this year in double-A.