Friday, February 17, 2012

Andrelton Simmons' Place On Prospect Lists

Andrelton Simmons is one of the most talked about prospects in the Braves system. Why? Because there is a wide gap between thoughts on his projection.

There is the belief that Simmons is the eventual starting shortstop for the Atlanta Braves, capable of providing plus defense with a serviceable bat. There is also the belief that Simmons won't be anything more than a utility infielder at the major league level, and his ceiling is that of a starter on a last-place team.

Simmons is Exhibit A for the case that Braves position prospects are being overrated because of the lack of depth in the system. Just because Simmons is worthy of a top 10 ranking doesn't mean he's worthy of a starting shortstop ceiling in the major leagues. Yet, far too many are doing just that to him.

He doesn't walk, recording 44 free passes in 839 pro plate appearances, and relies too heavily on BABIP for a high projection. In 269 plate appearances in Danville two years ago, a .282 BABIP resulted in a .276 batting average. He maintained a .340 OBP, but the small sample 5.9 BB% resulted in much of that.

The 570 plate appearances at Lynchburg last year showed his true plate discipline, as he posted a .334 BABIP to the tune of a .311 average and .351 OBP. However, the walk rate declined to 5.1% as he traded a bit of his walks for more power, upping his slugging percentage to .408 with 35 doubles.

Simmons will never project to have power in the upper levels, so in order to have a serviceable bat, he will need to walk and get on base consistently. He hasn't shown the ability to do the former yet, and the latter so far has been largely the result of BABIP.

To cut things short, Simmons' type of bat doesn't project well in the upper levels, and he will rely on his superb defense to make it. That is likely to happen, because his defense already projects as major league ready. He can serve a National League team well with his defense, but I can't help but feel the bat may prevent him from starting.

The bat has to be there to some extent to be more than just a utility infielder, and this season at Double-A should be the true test. If he continues to move up the ladder with good averages, I'll be more than happy to eat my words, because shortstops with plus defense are valuable. But I don't see the projected value being worthy of a top five or six pick on Braves prospect lists yet.

He has to prove his bat in the upper levels before I'm willing to go that high on him. But with the lack of bats in the Braves system right now, he's blindly handed a high selection on lists. Just because a player is one of the better bats in the system doesn't mean he's worthy of a high pick ahead of more projection-type arms and bats. If anything, it shows how poor the Braves system is for hitting.

If I'm forecasting his 2012 season at Mississippi, I would go along the lines of .270/.320/.380. If I'm forecasting his career in the majors, I'm saying the same thing. Whatever he does in Double-A and Triple-A could be somewhat of a predictor for his major league career. It will depend on how he responds and adjusts to advanced pitching with an empty bat.

Simmons' rank on community lists:
Talking Chop - 9th
Capitol Avenue Club - 8th
Chop-n-Change - 9th
Tomahawk Take - 6th
FanGraphs - 6th
Kevin Goldstein - 5th
Keith Law - 5th
Baseball America - 4th

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