It appears as though, after a spring’s worth of uncertainty, the Atlanta Braves have decided on an Opening Day shortstop, with the news this afternoon (courtesy David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution) that the club has assigned defensive wunderkind Andrelton Simmons to minor-league camp, leaving Tyler Pastornicky with the job.
To which level, precisely, Simmons has been sent remains to be seen, but there are options available to the Braves: given his age (22) and previous high level (High-A Lynchburg), an assigment to Double-A wouldn’t (nor should it) be regarded as a slight to Simmons’ skill level or potential. There’s certainly reason to believe that — aside from whatever he showed the coaching staff and front office this spring — that Pastornicky’s experience in the high minors (672 plate appearances between Double- and Triple-A) was instrumental in helping him to secure the starting spot to break camp. There’s also reason to believe that exposure to more advanced pitching would help Simmons’ refine his offensive game.
So, even if Simmons were to spend the entirety of 2012 in the minors, it likely wouldn’t represent any kind of misstep on the part of the Braves.
That said, with Simmons, there are three points always to consider:
1. Defense is his primary skill.
2. His defensive skill — even if coupled with merely replacement-level offense — probably makes him an average major leaguer right now.
3. Defense peaks earlier than other skills — probably around 25 or so.
In light of the facts, it’s probably fair to say that the window on Andrelton Simmons’ major-league career is a slightly different one than we see for many prospects, with the beginning of his peak set to arrive as soon as now. Because a lot of his value is derived from defensive play — that, coupled with the fact that his offensive ceiling is probably limited by a lack of power upside — Simmons will likely never be much more valuable than he will by, say, the middle or end of the 2012 season.