Braves Elect To Keep Simmons At Short





ATLANTA—One of the more incredible recent rises in baseball involves shortstop Andrelton Simmons. While the conclusion of this tale is far from over, getting to where he is today represents a remarkable journey.

A native of Curacao, Simmons received some mild interest as well as a few small offers from a couple of teams when he turned 16, but he did not sign. From there he nearly fell off the baseball radar until Western Oklahoma State JC head coach Kurt Russell noticed the infielder during a recruiting trip. Russell wound up bringing Simmons into his program, where the 20-year-old hit a team-best .472 with seven home runs, 40 RBIs and 15 stolen bases despite missing a month with a broken toe in 2010.

Displaying arm strength that hovers close to 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Simmons generated raves for his potential as a pitcher. Other observers noted his plus-plus defensive skills and envisioned an everyday player. The Braves fell in the latter group, yet are keeping their options open regarding a move to the mound after drafting him in the second round with the 70th overall selection last June.

"He's the best natural shortstop I've had the opportunity to work with," Braves roving infield instructor Tom Shields said. "I believe he is the steal of the draft. He has unbelievable energy, a rifle for an arm, and excellent range. He is as smooth and polished as you'll ever see a guy at shortstop."

Yet Shields and the Braves realize the question centers on whether he will hit enough to stay in the lineup at higher levels. He hit .276/.340/.356 at Rookie-level Danville with just 14 strikeouts versus 16 walks in 239 at-bats.

The situation would not be such a quandary if Simmons wasn't capable of dominating at pitcher. His fastball was clocked as high as 97 mph this past spring, and scouts believe that based on how raw he is on the mound, he could be overpowering with some coaching and refinement.

"I feel he will hit because he puts the ball in play, he has some pop, and he has a pretty good idea at the plate," Shields said. "At the same time, you don't see many arms like that."

Wigwam Wisps

• Jordan Schafer says his wrist feels better than it has since early in the 2009 season and that he is ready to reestablish himself as part of the future in the Atlanta outfield. Schafer injured the wrist early in the 2009 season and it continued to hamper him in 2010.

• Craig Kimbrel has been groomed to be the Braves' future closer for the past two years. After putting together a strong September that led to a prominent role in the Atlanta bullpen for the playoffs, Kimbrel recently said his goal is to be the Braves' closer in 2011, taking over for the retired Billy Wagner.