"He wanted the opportunity to play shortstop and he wowed us from the very beginning," Braves general manager Frank Wren said. "We couldn't be happier with his progress."
So much so that the Braves are convinced the 22-year-old is their shortstop of the future. The only question is when the future will become the present as Simmons continues to turn heads in the Southern League with Double-A Mississippi.
The Braves didn't re-sign veteran free agent Alex Gonzalez, envisioning rookie Tyler Pastornicky as the heir apparent at least on a short-term basis. But Simmons nearly won the shortstop battle in Spring Training before being set back by a side strain.
"We don't have a timetable," Wren said of Simmons. "He's very special defensively. With him, it's going to be a how fast his bat is ready."
So far, so good. Simmons won the batting title in the Class A Advanced Carolina League with a .311 average in his first full season a year ago and got off to a solid start in Double-A. He sat out Mississippi's first four games this year but had two hits in his debut and was batting .346 through Sunday.
It is in the field, though, where Simmons really stands out. It's why he is ranked No. 65 among MLB.com's Top 100 Prospects and is No. 3 on the Braves' list.
The arm that produced a 98-mph fastball as a pitcher at Western Oklahoma State is eye popping. But so is Simmons' range and soft hands.
In fact, it is hard to imagine that most Major League teams liked Simmons more as a pitcher in junior college.
"I told the Braves I wanted to play shortstop and I think it has worked out," Simmons said.
That's a major understatement.
"The kid has got it all," Braves third baseman Chipper Jones said during Spring Training. "When you haven't played a game above [Class] A ball and everybody who sees you says you're Major League-ready defensively, that's saying something."
Mississippi fans may not get to watch Simmons long.
"Based on his good Spring, we contemplated sending him to Triple-A," Wren said. "But in the end we thought the best thing for him was to stick to our original plan and start in Double-A."
Simmons is confident, but not cocky.
"I know I still have some stuff to learn," he said. "I'm trying to learn as quickly as I can."
Blue Wahoos a big hit: Pensacola sold out every game during its opening five-game series with Montgomery and the sellout streak continued when the first-year team returned from its opening road series to host Jacksonville on Sunday. Blue Wahoos Park on the Pensacola waterfront has a capacity of 5,038.
Davidson starts red hot: With the Mobile pitching staff boasting Trevor Bauer, Tyler Skaggs and three others among the D-backs' Top 20 prospects, third baseman Matt Davidson could easily be overlooked. But Davidson, ranked No. 5, went 15-for-30 during an opening nine-game hitting streak and was batting .462 with 11 walks through Sunday.
Eovaldi waiting his call: Nathan Eovaldi, No. 70 on the Top 100 Prospects list, struck out 13 and walked three over 11 innings while posting a 2.45 ERA in his first two starts for Chattanooga. The right-hander made six starts for Los Angeles last year and is ranked as Los Angeles' No. 2 prospect.
Mitchell bouncing back: Outfielder Jared Mitchell, the White Sox's No. 5 prospect, missed the 2010 season with a serious ankle injury suffered in Spring Training and hit just .222 last year for Class A Advanced Winston-Salem. But the No. 23 overall pick in the 2009 Draft had 10 RBIs in his first 11 games with Birmingham and was batting .343 with 11 walks.