Collecting Simba and Rev

A Tyler Pastornicky autograph from 2012 Topps Chrome and an Andrelton Simmons auto from 2012 Bowman.

A short story of the cards and careers of Tyler Pastornicky and Andrelton Simmons.

If this ends up reading as insulting towards a certain Atlanta Braves player, you should know that this isn’t my intention. On the left edge of my desk is a nice stack of Tyler Pastornicky baseball cards. I consider myself a fan. I watched as he won the starting shortstop job out of spring training in 2011. I then watched as he struggled through the first two months of the season. His bat is his calling card and he put up a slash line of .248/.281/.324 before his demotion. He is not, of course, the first young kid to struggle during his first two months on a major league roster. I’m willing to bet their are more players who have started their careers off like Rev than those who have set the world on fire from day one. His biggest troubles weren’t offensive though. His UZR was a stunningly bad −12.1. He wasn’t just playing the field poorly, he was awful. Simply awful.

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I run through all of that and you start to wonder how I could be a fan. All I can offer is that my fandom is rarely dependent upon on field performance. Still, I have very specific reasons that I consider myself a fan, and I’ll get to those in a bit. If you put on the uniform with the tomahawk across the chest, my default position is to be a fan. I’ve attended numerous games since Dan Uggla arrived in Atlanta, and I have not booed him once. I see a guy who goes out every day and plays his heart out. He’s doing everything in his power to live up to the massive contract. That’s all I can ask as a fan. Sure, I would prefer that his performance live up to the amount of cash he’s paid, but it’s no matter. I’m a fan. I also have a soft spot for career minor league catchers. I’m not sure I’ve rooted harder for anyone than I did Clint Sammons and JC Boscan.

So, now that I’ve established myself as a fan of Dan Uggla, Clint Sammons and JC Boscan, it shouldn’t be a stretch to imagine that I’m a fan of Tyler Pastornicky. I am, however, a bigger fan of Pastornicky. Imagine that you are named the starting shortstop of a big league team coming out of camp. Imagine that you struggle from the start on both sides of the ball. Imagine that you are sent back down to the minors just two months into your big league career. Imagine that your Dad’s big league career lasted all of ten games and now you were back in the minors. Imagine that your replacement, who went straight from AA to the starting lineup in Atlanta, set the world on fire from the start. How easy would it be to give up? How easy would it be to walk away from the game? I can tell you what isn’t easy. It isn’t easy to rededicate yourself to your craft. It isn’t to swallow your pride and accept that you have more work to do. It simply isn’t easy to get better. Rev didn’t select the easy path and that’s why I’m a fan. I’m not qualified to say whether or not he has career ahead of him in the big leagues, but I suspect he does. I sure hope he does.

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As a Blue Jays prospect, Rev never showed up on the radar of the Bowman Scout. In 2011, he put up impressive numbers with the bat in Mississippi and Gwinnett and received his first Bowman cards in 2011 Bowman Draft Picks & Prospects. He also appeared in Topps minor league set, 2011 Pro Debut. As a rookie in the Braves starting lineup, Topps was in the Tyler Pastornicky business big time in 2012. He appeared in virtually every set released by Topps in 2012. He was asked to sign for base Topps, Topps Chrome, Topps Finest and Triple Threads. Pastornicky continues to receive cards in 2013. Despite the small team set sizes of Topps Heritage and Panini Prizm, and despite the fact that he is currently, for all intents and purposes, a minor league player, he was included in both sets. Fair enough.

There have been very few players over the years that have captured my imagination and my fandom as immediately as Andrelton Simmons. From his first day in the uniform of the Atlanta Braves, he’s been one of my favorite players. He turned the simple act of fielding a routine ground ball into an art form. Even though e hasn’t spent a full year in the big leagues yet, he’s made a number of plays already that many of us will never forget. His range, arm and instincts are far beyond anything I’ve ever seen on a regular basis. In baseball, you can’t always believe your eyes, but in the case of Simba, the numbers make his defensive prowess look, if this is even possible, more impressive. (Check out Scott Coleman’s post from earlier this week detailing Simmons defensive numbers.) If he’s in the game, I want every hitter to hit the ball his way.

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A lot of us were terrified when the Braves brought him up the big leagues straight from AA. The general belief was, from the moment he was drafted, his defense was ready. His hitting was considered a work in progress. That’s not to say he wasn’t hitting well in the minors. He actually put up number that were quite good at every level of the minors. Still, most of us didn’t think his bat was ready. Instead, he never looked overmatched. He seems to have the ability to make adjustments on the fly. His defense is so amazing that any offense he puts up will be gravy. It’s hard to argue that his offense is still a work in progress. That’s not an easy position to be in when you play int he big leagues. By all indications, it looks like Simmons can handle it. I think he’s going to far exceed our expectations for his offense.

There are a lot of little things that made Simmons one of my favorites from the start. There’s something about the interviews he gives that just makes me like him. He’s one of those guys who gets it. When he talks about the mechanics of his swing, you can tell that he isn’t just blessed with athletic instincts, but he was also blessed with the ability to analyze his game and his capabilities. I also like the way he carries himself on the field. He clearly takes his game seriously, but at the same time, he also looks like he’s having fun. He has a smile that is simply infectious. My fandom was confirmed in the dugout after his first big league home run. It was a solo shot against the Blue Jays. When he arrived in the dugout, he was hazed a bit as his veteran teammates ignored him when he arrived in the dugout. What did Simmons do? He started high-fiving the air. How can you not love this kid?

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Andrelton Simmons showed up on Topps radar the year he was drafted as he appeared in both 2010 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects and 2010 Topps MiLB Pro Debut. I guess he didn’t capture the imagination of the Bowman scout though as he didn’t appear in any of the Bowman products in 2011. He did make both of Topps minor league products, 2011 Topps Heritage Minors and 2011 Topps MiLB Pro Debut. (His Heritage minors cards are among his best. If you don’t like the green uniform of the Lynchburg Hillcats, there’s something wrong with you.) In 2012, Topps went all in with their Bowman products. Simmons appeared in 2012 Bowman, 2012 Bowman Draft Picks and Prospects, 2012 Bowman Platinum and 2012 Bowman Sterling. He ever received his first Bowman autograph as well. He also appeared in 2012 Topps Chrome and received his first Topps base card in 2012 Topps Update. I was convinced that Topps would be all-in with Andrelton Simmons in 2013 and it was the single thing that excited me most about the 2013 collecting season.

It hasn’t worked out like that of course. I guess I should have been concerned when Topps decided that Zack Cozart was their All Rookie Team shortstop. 2013 Topps Series 1 came and went without a Simba card. He was included in 2013 Topps Heritage thankfully, and that covers his Topps cards so far in 2013. He wasn’t given a card in 2013 Topps Gypsy Queen. He didn’t appear in the 2013 Topps Stickers set. 2013 Bowman has been on the shelves for over a week now and there is no Andrelton Simmons card to be had. (Zack Cozart cards are everywhere on the other hand.) I can’t explain the lack of Simmons cards. It makes little to no sense to me. It’s only a short term problem though for the Simba collector. Sooner or later, Topps will have no choice but to put Simmons in all of their sets. I’m betting that day will be sooner rather than later.

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