For some of our positional reviews, there will be a lot of uncertainty. There are several positions (catcher, left field, third base, second base, back of the rotation, etc) that are hardly settled going in to 2016 and were sources of concern at times in 2015. There are questions about youth development at some positions (Mallex Smith, Jace Peterson, Hector Olivera....sorta) while others have questions regarding veterans (AJ Pierzynski, Nick Markakis, Cameron Maybin).
However, in this installment, we get to appreciate one piece that isn't going anywhere for a while as we continue to get to be spoiled by shortstop Andrelton Simmons.
Lets be clear, Andrelton Simmons is not a perfect baseball player. His 2015 slash line at the plate of .265/.321/.338 isn't going send writers scrambling for their MVP ballots and he certainly could help the cause a bit more by drawing a few more walks. However, with a BABIP of .285 in 2015 which is less than optimal, some of his offensive development has been masked. The man rarely strikes out and in 2015 he had career highs in line drive percentage (21.4%, almost 3 points better than previous high) and ground ball percentage (56.2%...slightly better than previous high) while decreasing his fly ball and, specifically, infield fly ball percentages significantly from his career averages (Andrelton hitting pop ups was a regular occurrence early on in his young career). With some help from the BABIP gods and hitting balls a little harder, Andrelton could easily improve on his 2015 offensive performance which was still very decent.
Especially, when you consider his defense...oh man, that defense.
To say that Andrelton is a gifted defensive shortstop is one of the bigger understatements in baseball today. He had 25 Defensive Runs Saved (among the league leaders in the category) and that was a DOWN year for him in the category. One can only assume this was partially due to not have to basically play third base as well with Chris Johnson on his way out of town. The man made eight errors total on the year while playing 1279.1 innings. Eight. He has the range AND cannon of an arm to be one of the all-time defensive greats at the position, plain and simple. How did he look in 2015, well...take a look for yourselves.
So yeah...he's pretty good.
For 2016, expect more of the same from Andrelton. Would it be great if he hit 17 home runs again like he did in 2013? Of course, but don't expect it. Its far more likely that he continues to be a high-rate of contact hitter who will in all likelihood have a slash line in the neighborhood of .270/.330/.360 while providing All-World defense at the shortstop position.
Its worth noting that Andrelton did miss a few games here and there with minor injuries so we did get to see a couple other players at shortstop including Pedro Ciriaco and Daniel Castro. Ciriaco had his stretches where he was very useful off the bench, but Castro impressed with the glove and, somewhat surprisingly, with the bat as well in very limited action. I would expect to see Castro on the bench next season in a utility infielder role to give Andrelton and Hector Olivera occasional days off.
That being said, Andrelton in under contract through 2020 and barring the unforeseen, will be manning the shortstop position at the very least until then.