Braves' Simmons Proves Himself At Shortstop

ATLANTA—The first major league team Andrelton Simmons saw on television while growing up in Curacao was the Braves, with center field being patrolled by Andruw Jones, the most notable player in the island's history.

Simmons longed to play for the same team as Jones but knew the odds were long, and he attracted little attention from pro teams as a teenager.

He did catch the eye of Western Oklahoma State JC head coach Kurt Russell during a recruiting trip, however. The school often brings in players from the Caribbean, and Russell deemed Simmons a perfect fit.

Russell proved spot on. Simmons emerged as the best defensive shortstop available in the 2010 draft as well as one of the liveliest arms, displaying a mid-90s fastball and a mid-80s slider while closing games for the Pioneers.

"Every team liked me as a pitcher, even the Braves," said Simmons, who was a second-round pick. "I like pitching, but I like playing every day. I love to play shortstop; that's what I always wanted to do. I'll close if they need me after I play shortstop."

The Braves decided to let Simmons show what he could at short, with pitching as a fallback position, and he hasn't disappointed. He debuted last summer by hitting .276/.340/.356 for Rookie-level Danville. He jumped over low Class A Rome this spring, going straight to high Class A Lynchburg. His defense is spectacular at times, and he shows outstanding range, and his offense has exceeded expectations. The 6-foot-2, 170-pounder was batting .302/.333/.373 in 324 at-bats.

"I've always known I can hit," Simmons said. "I told them I would show them. I can do whatever they need me to do in order to win the game. I'm still working on stuff, but I'm confident I can do this."

The Braves want Simmons, 21, to improve his bunting and adjust his swing based on the situation. He succeeded on just 11 of his first 21 stolen base attempts and also needs to hone his skills on the basepaths.

Wigwam Wisps

• The Braves fired Rome manager Matt Walbeck and replaced him with Rick Albert, who has managed at every level of the minors and has been in the organization since signing as a player in 1972.

• With a plethora of starting pitchers at Double-A Mississippi, the Braves have used righthander J.J. Hoover out of the bullpen since the midseason break. Hoover has the ability to overpower hitters, as evidenced by ranking third in the Southern League with a 2.72 ERA and an opponent average of .214.