Is Simmons Ready To Assume Leadoff Role For Braves?





KISSIMMEE, Fla.—The Braves made offseason headlines by acquiring brothers B.J. and Justin Upton, obscuring that the free agent departure of Michael Bourn leaves Atlanta with no natural leadoff hitter.

Manager Fredi Gonzalez intends to fill the role with second-year shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who has 49 games of major league experience.

"I think he's shown us that he can be the guy," Gonzalez said. "He's a mature kid who understands the game.

"Many 23-year-olds would have difficulty accepting this type of challenge, especially with only part of one season under his belt."

The Braves have no reason to doubt Simmons' ability. After all, the organization was willing to buck convention and allow the native of Curacao to apply his rocket of a right arm to shortstop instead of on the mound.

Drafted in the second round in 2010 after one season at Western Oklahoma State JC, Simmons has so far handled every challenge thrown his way.

He bypassed low Class A in 2011, beginning his first full season at high Class A Lynchburg, where he hit leadoff and won the Carolina League batting title at .311.

Simmons spent just two months at Double-A Mississippi in 2012, hitting .293/.372/.420 in 174 at-bats, before being summoned to Atlanta to replace rookie Tyler Pastornicky.

He hit .296 through July 8, when he broke the pinky of his right hand in a headfirst slide and missed two months.

Critics point to the fact that Simmons batted eighth in 117 of his 182 plate appearances as a rookie, drawing eight of 12 walks when the pitcher was on deck. He also displayed an overall lack of patience, swinging at nearly half of pitches he saw.

"Batting lower in the order requires a different mindset," Gonzalez said. "Knowing the pitcher isn't up next (this season), he won't have to be as aggressive at times.

"There will be a learning curve, but I have no doubt he has the ability to make the adjustments and be that guy for us."

WIGWAM WISPS

• Because he's already on the 40-man roster, prospect Christian Bethancourt could open the season as the backup catcher to Gerald Laird until starter Brian McCann returns in April or May.

• Minor league coaches Rick Albert and Bobby Moore were among those providing assistance during the early stages of big league camp.