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Braves prospect retrospect: Andrelton Simmons

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The Atlanta Braves former shortstop was once one of the best defensive prospects in baseball. Let’s take a look back at Andrelton Simmons time in Atlanta.

Toronto Blue Jays v Atlanta Braves Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

It didn’t take Andrelton Simmons long to become a fan favorite in his brief time in Atlanta. His trade to the Los Angeles Angels still stirs the pot a little bit in conversations about the rebuild.

But we’ll get to that in a little bit. Let’s take a look back at the career of the man named Simba.

Andrelton Simmons short time as a top MiLB prospect

When it comes to looking back at Simmons career in Minor League Baseball, there isn’t a whole lot to discuss. Simmons was recruited from his home country of Curacao to play for Western Oklahoma State College, where he helped lead them to the NJCAA Division II College World Series and hit .472 as a freshman and threw a 95 mile-per-hour fastball on the bump.

The Braves selected the slick-fielding shortstop in the second round of the 2010 MLB draft and he was sharp in his half-season debut. Though there were little questions about his glove, many questioned his ability to hit at the next level. Simmons answered the call in 2011, slashing .311/.351/.408 in the Carolina League.

Heading into 2012, Simmons was the 92nd-best prospect in the game according to Baseball America and seen by just about everyone as the fourth-best prospect in the Braves system, only behind the Big Three pitching prospects of Julio Teheran, Arodys Vizcaino and Randall Delgado. After just 44 games in Double-A Mississippi, Simmons was headed to Atlanta, never taking a Triple-A at bat.

The best defensive shortstop in Major League Baseball

Simmons adjusted well in his rookie season. He made his big-league debut in June and made an immediate impact taking home National League Rookie of the Month honors. He suffered an injury in July and tailed off a bit when he returned in September, but finished his rookie campaign hitting .289 with a .335 on-base percentage (OBP) in 49 games.

That same postseason Simmons hit a fly ball between the shortstop and left fielder that is still one of the more debated calls in recent playoff history. That’s all I have to say about that.

The 2013 season was one of historic proportions for Simmons. At the plate, he found unexpected power hitting 27 doubles and 17 home runs. Simmons was an interesting hitter in that he was aggressive in his approach, but rarely struck out. He showed that, striking out 55 times in 658 plate appearances, but he rarely drew a walk, finishing with just a .296 OBP.

In the field, Simmons saved 30 runs per Baseball Reference, which set the record since the dawn of the Defensive Runs Saved metric in 2003. He was the Wilson Defensive Player of the Year — the first of three in a row — and finished 14th in the Most Valuable Player voting. He also won his first of five career Gold Gloves.

The 2014 and 2015 seasons were more of the same, although the power faded rather quickly. That didn’t really matter though, because Simmons strength wasn’t creating runs, but saving them, something he did and still does better than most anyone. The Braves locked up Simmons for the long-term in 2014, signing him to a seven-year, $58-million deal.

Or so we thought.

Simba and the Los Angeles Angels

When the Braves began shedding contracts, Simmons was one of the casualties. In November of 2015, Simba was dealt to the Los Angeles Angels for Erick Aybar, Chris Ellis and Sean Newcomb.

While many of the trades made a lot of sense, this one stood out as a head scratcher. At the time, Newcomb was indeed one of the premier left-handed prospects in the game, but Simmons was young and locked up through his prime. Though the Braves would be paying him a pretty penny in 2019 and 2020 — $13 million and $15 million respectively — it still seemed like it had value based on his defense. (Author’s note: this is my opinion, not a statement of fact.)

Of course a month after the Simmons trade, the Braves dealt for Dansby Swanson and filled the hole left by Simmons at a much more favorable price tag, but we didn’t know that at the time.

Simmons went on to break his own Defensive Runs Saved record in 2017 with the California Angels of Los Angeles in Anaheim (which should be their official name), now holding the mark with 40 per Baseball Reference. Since the stat was conceived in 2003, no one has saved more runs than Simmons and per MLB, he has 100 more saved runs than the next closest shortstop since his 2013 full-season debut. That same 2017 season he posted a 5.0 dWAR per Baseball Reference — the third-highest single-season dWAR of all-time.

His bat also worked well in his first three seasons with the Angels, hitting a career high .292 in 2018 and re-finding that pop he had in his rookie year with back-to-back double-digit home run seasons.

Over the years, Simmons has been called other worldly, an acrobat and even the best defensive shortstop ever. He does things that sometimes you think can’t be done. These are some of my favorite headlines on his play:

A just recently-turned 31, Simmons will hit free agency this offseason for the first time in his career. He has established himself as one of the greatest defensive shortstops of his generation, now with six career Defensive Player of the Year awards at the shortstop position. Although not a hitter of high average, he is reliable enough by not striking out and getting the ball in play frequently.

He’ll have little issue finding a home in 2021. And when he does, the fans will quickly grow to love having their Simba.

Did you hear? Thanks to you, our dear readers enjoying this series, we have our own Prospect Retrospect hub page now! Be sure to check out those prospects we have already looked at and keep up with who is yet to come below:

The Prospect Retrospect Hub