February 21, 2013 at 11:37 am by Ethan Purser under Prospects
We begin this week with a pitcher who has slowly but surely climbed the organizational ladder after being drafted in 2009. We end with a man who, well, needs no introduction.
20. David Hale: RHP | R/R | 6’2”, 210 lbs. | Age: 25 | 3rd round, 2009
Performance: In his first full season in the starting rotation for Double-A Mississippi, Hale gave reasons for both optimism and concern, producing a 3.77 ERA/4.06 FIP with a 124:67 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 145.2 innings pitched, the most innings he has pitched in professional baseball. His ERA and strikeout rate were both slightly better than the Southern League; his walk rate and strikeout-to-walk ratio were both worse than league average.
Tools: The athletic righty brings two quality offerings to the table, with his fastball sitting in the low- to mid-90s and his slider sitting in the mid-80s with biting two-plane break. Both pitches, in terms of raw grades, have the potential to be plus offerings; due to his command profile, however, the pitches play a bit lower in game action. He will occasionally flash a changeup, but it is nothing more than a show-me pitch at this point. Hale possesses prototypical tall-and-fall mechanics with a moderate tempo, a three-quarters release point, and very good front-side mechanics. He has an extremely quick arm, though his elbow gets higher than one would like in the back, forcing his arm to catch up with the rest of his body. This can negatively affect command/control.
Future: Hale will move up to Triple-A Gwinnett in 2013 after being added to the 40-man roster this offseason. His full-time move to the rotation in 2012 was understandable, given that a team should do everything in its power to maximize the potential of its prospects. His start-to-start inconsistency mixed with his lack of a playable third pitch ultimately point to a bullpen role long-term. If he can fix his inconsistency issues and somehow develop his changeup into a passable offering, he could slot at the back-end of a rotation. He’ll play next season as a 25-year-old, however, so at this point he is very much an is-what-he-is prospect. He could find himself in the bullpen at some point in 2013. Given his current repertoire and profile, I think he’s a candidate to become a high-leverage bullpen piece in the not-so-distant future.
19. Luis Avilan: LHP | L/L | 6’2”, 220 lbs. | Age: 23 | Signed out of Venezuela, 2008
Performance: After spending time in both the bullpen and the starting rotation for Mississippi in 2012, Avilan was promoted to the big club in July and did not disappoint, posting a 2.00 ERA/2.54 FIP (51 ERA-/66 FIP-) with a 33:10 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 36 innings pitched. In this sample, his strikeout-to-walk ratio was 35 percent above his minor league average. Depending upon one’s viewpoint, this could either be seen as an aberration or an increase in his overall skill-set, though the answer likely lies somewhere in-between. He limited home runs with respect to the amount of fly-balls he gave up, which which was seen in an xFIP that was nearly a run and a half higher than his ERA.
Tools: Avilan brings a nice four-pitch mix to the table: a fastball and sinker that both sit in the plus range, a curveball in the mid-70s with above-average lateral movement to the glove side, and a low-80s changeup that features plenty of sink and fade. He primarily attacks right-handed hitters with the sinker and the changeup, which play nicely off of one another. His primary off-speed weapon against arm-side hitters, however, is the curveball, which he throws 32 percent of the time in these situations, according to Brooks Baseball. His mechanics are not that impressive, as he does a poor job of firming up his front side and does not get extended well over his front leg, which could potentially lead to command/control issues. This is not a huge deal, however, as he has already shown the ability to get hitters out at the major league level despite these mechanical flaws; now, he must repeat it.
Future: Going into the spring, Avilan should begin the year in the big club’s loaded bullpen. He’ll be a valuable middle relief option due to his ability to keep both right-handed and left-handed hitters at bay.
18. Luis Merejo: LHP | L/L | 6’0”, 175 lbs. | Age: 18 | Signed out the Dominican Republic, 2011
Performance: When talking about Braves prospects who caught the attention of prospect junkies in 2012, Merejo is one of the first names to come to mind. While his 4.61 ERA was 34 percent worse than the Gulf Coast League average, his 1.81 FIP tells a different story, which can be told by way of incredible component statistics. His strikeout rate was 45 percent better than the league, his walk rate was 37 percent better than the league, and his 53:9 strikeout-to-walk ratio was an astounding 131 percent better than the league. For a 17-year-old in his first taste of professional baseball, those numbers are pretty ridiculous.
Tools: Merejo is a pitchability lefty who may not light up radar guns, but makes up for it due to an advanced idea of how to mix his pitches and locate. The young lefty possesses fringe-average to average fastball velocity, but can reach back for more on occasion. One can usually project young pitchers to add velocity once they begin to physically mature, but it is really hard for one to do that with a pitcher like Merejo due to his small frame. He pairs his fastball with a nice curveball that flashes plus and a developing changeup. His stuff plays up due to a deceptive delivery.
Future: We can gush over his numbers all we want, but this does not change the fact that he’s extremely far away from the highest level of competition. He is, in a way, the opposite of most exciting pitching prospects in the lower minors, in that he has superb control but does not project to add many ticks to his fastball velocity. Pitchers with a smoke-and-mirrors profile can usually exploit hitters in the lower minors, as the “see-ball, hit-ball” mentality does not lend itself to success against a pitcher with somewhat developed secondaries who can locate and change eye levels with ease. As he climbs the ladder, it will be interesting to monitor whether he can continue his success with this approach against more advanced hitters. The Braves were aggressive in placing him in the Gulf Coast League as a 17-year-old, and while the logical progression would be for him to move to Danville to begin the season, it would not be surprising to see him in Rome at some point in 2013 given his relative polish. If this happens, look for Merejo to start popping onto the national prospect scene.
17. Kyle Kubitza: 3B | L/R | 6’3”, 190 lbs. | Age: 22 | 3rd round, 2011
Performance: In the aggregate, Kubitza performed well in 2012, posting averages of .239/.349/.393 with 24 doubles, nine triples, nine home runs, and a 73:127 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 531 plate appearances. He showcased a plethora of skills in his full-season debut, evidenced by a .333 secondary average. His monthly splits were all over the place, compiling an OPS of .977 in April, .687 in May, .825 in June, .651 in July, and .814 in August. Ultimately, his walk rate and secondary average were 52 percent and 33 percent better than the league, respectively. His strikeout rate, on the other hand, was 21 percent worse than the South Atlantic League.
Tools: Possessing sound tools across the board, Kubitza stood out in many looks last season. His tall, lean frame offers plenty in the way of projection for future muscle development. While he did commit 20 errors last season, he improved as the year progressed. This is a normal trait with young third basemen, as the need for professional development at this dynamic position will sometimes cause players who are on the rawer end of the spectrum to struggle in the lower minors. He has all of the tools to make these improvements, however, and began to do so last season. He has a strong arm, though he can occasionally let it get away from him. At the plate, Kubitza’s swing projects well for both contact and power; he has a bit of a hitch in his load, which is considered to be a positive if done properly and not in excess (i.e., keeping the hands somewhat connected to the back shoulder). This allows the barrel to begin moving without getting long in the back of his swing, thus allowing him to wait until the last moment before committing to any pitch. He has some loft in his swing path, though it is more conducive to hard line drives currently. Kubitza’s power is of the bat-speed and wrist-strength variety, as opposed to a hulking slugger who uses sheer strength and excessive leverage to send balls into the seats. He’s not afraid to take balls out to left-center, as some of his most prodigious shots have come in this area. He’s an incredibly patient hitter with a developed plan in place at all times. On the basepaths, Kubitza is a solid-average to plus runner once underway.
Future: Lynchburg seems to be the next step for Kubitza in his climb up the organizational ladder. If everything comes together, Kubitza could develop into an everyday third baseman with a wide array of tools and skills. Month-to-month consistency will be key for the 22-year-old in 2013.
16. Aaron Northcraft: RHP | R/R | 6’4”, 225 lbs. | Age: 22 | 10th round, 2009
Performance: No Braves pitcher above Low-A raised his stock more than Northcraft in 2012. The big righty from Mater Dei High School was an integral part of a vaunted staff in Lynchburg, and while his 3.98 ERA was ever so slightly above the league average, his peripherals stood out in a huge way. He finished the season with a 2.64 FIP and a 160:53 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 151.2 innings pitched. His strikeout rate rose 36 percent from 2011 to 2012, registering a solid 23 percent above Carolina League average. His strikeout-to-walk ratio, which also markedly improved from 2011 to 2012, was a solid 22 percent above the league. One of Northcraft’s best attributes is his ability to keep the ball on the ground, as evidenced by a 2.48 groundball-to-flyball ratio, a figure that was 119 percent above Carolina League average. That’s, uh, pretty good.
Tools: Northcraft’s 6’4”, 225-pound frame is seemingly built to eat innings. He attacks hitters from a low-three quarters arm slot with a fastball that sits average, a plus sinker (which, coincidentally, garners Tim Hudson comparisons), and a developing slider and changeup. He has a long-ish arm action, though he maintains deception in his delivery by throwing across his body. He firms up his front side in an efficient manner and lands on a firm, yet flexed, front leg, allowing him to finish his pitches well out front. In the past, he utilized an El Duque-style leg kick, but he has since replaced this with a more normal leg raise. His repertoire plays up due to an advanced ability to mix his pitches, which aids in keeping hitters off-balance. The 22-year-old can occasionally struggle with command in the zone, a trait that is common among younger pitchers.
Future: Northcraft was added to the 40-man roster this offseason, which speaks to the organization’s faith in his ability to repeat his 2012 performance as he moves to Double-A in 2013. He will be 23 years old in Mississippi next season, an age that is certainly level-appropriate. The consensus prior to this season was that Northcraft was “just” a good organizational piece; this is definitely no longer the case, as one can realistically view his ceiling as an innings-eating, back-of-the-rotation arm. If this doesn’t work out, he would be an asset as a ground-ball specialist out of the bullpen.
15. Bryan De La Rosa: C | R/R | 5’8”, 193 lbs. | Age: 18 | 3rd round, 2012
Performance: Upon signing in June, De La Rosa struggled mightily in the Gulf Coast League, posting averages of .162/.194/.221 with one double, one home run, and a 2:30 walk-to-strikeout rate in 73 plate appearances. He spent all of his time on defense behind the plate, throwing out 30 percent of base stealers while allowing 13 passed balls and committing nine errors in 28 games. Everyone performs horribly in the GCL, but this was especially painful.
Tools: De La Rosa possesses all of the tools one should expect from a defense-first catching prospect drafted out of high school — big arm, big tools behind the plate, and the bat . . . well, we’ll see. The arm is a serious weapon, registering Christian Bethancourt-esque pop times in Perfect Game showcases prior to the draft. While he is quick and agile behind the plate, he’s understandably raw in the finer points of catching, though he has plenty of time to work on these issues and all of the potential in the world to make the necessary adjustments. The idea of the swing is there; for the most part, he’s fairly short and quick to the ball, displaying enviable bat speed. He utilizes a heel-plant trigger after an initial short stride, and while he does have some loft in his swing, one has to squint in order to see him developing anything more than average power as he continues to mature physically. Speed will never be a part of De La Rosa’s game.
Future: While it is fun to dream on De La Rosa’s potential, we (read: I) probably need to tap the brakes a bit. High school position players — especially catchers — are inherently risky entities. This isn’t to say he should be dinged as a prospect; rather, expectations must be tempered with the caveat that he has plenty of legitimate tools that could play at the major league level at the highest position on the defensive spectrum. De La Rosa will more than likely begin this year back in the Gulf Coast League, barring any major developments this spring.
14. Matt Lipka: OF | R/R | 6’1”, 195 lbs. | Age: 20 | 1st round, 2010
Performance: Like La Stella, Lipka missed a good portion of 2012 due to injury. Prior to the injury, however, Lipka was making subtle across-the-board improvements from his miserable 2011 campaign, posting averages of .271/.335/.337 with five doubles, one triple, and two home runs with a 20:32 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 229 plate appearances. He added 12 stolen bases in 18 attempts. Although there were improvements, Lipka was still a below-average hitter in the Carolina League, evidenced by a 89 wRC+.
Tools: Lipka will flash four above-average to plus tools. The problem, however, is that he has not yet developed the necessary skills at the plate in order to properly showcase his offensive tools, and that’s okay; he’ll play 2013 as a 21-year-old, so he still has time to continue the development of his plate discipline, among other things. On the plus side, Lipka has a fair amount of contact in his bat; he’s short to the ball, though his top hand’s lack of authority can sometimes lead to problems with barrel control. The plane of his swing is extremely flat through the zone, and combined with lower-half inefficiencies, his future power output seems to be fringe-average, at best. Lipka can run — the plus-plus label has been thrown around on this tool — which aided in his move to center field this season. Along with his solid-average to plus arm strength, he should be an asset in this new position.
Future: Due to his injury and lost development time in 2012, one should expect Lipka to return to Lynchburg to begin the season. As mentioned earlier, he will still be young for his league even if he does repeat this level. The lofty expectations surrounding a high draft pick have certainly followed Lipka, and while he has yet to live up to the deserved hype surrounding his tools, the potential for breakout remains if he continues to hone his skills alongside his raw tools. Inherent within this claim, however, is the potential for a bust, though it’s far too early to begin this discussion with respect to Lipka.
13. Tommy La Stella: 2B | L/R | 5’11”, 185 lbs. | Age: 24 | 8th round, 2011
Performance: Injuries sidelined La Stella for a good portion of last season, but this did not stop the second baseman from producing when in the lineup for Lynchburg. The Coastal Carolina product posted averages of .302/.386/.460 with 22 doubles, five triples, and five home runs with a 36:24 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 358 plate appearances. The lefty handled both right-handed and left-handed pitching with ease. His component statistics compared quite favorably with the Carolina League; his secondary average, walk rate, and strikeout rate were 26 percent, 23 percent, and 66 percent better than the league, respectively.
Tools: If La Stella makes it to the highest level of competition, it will be because of his bat. He possesses an incredibly sound swing that generates a high amount of hard contact. In his set position, his base is extremely spread (picture a smaller version of Adam Laroche), but he utilizes a leg-kick trigger to gather his weight over his back leg. From here, he allows his hips to lead his hands, aiding in the separation between the two halves. His swing is extremely short and quick to the ball, allowing him to spray line drives from foul pole to foul pole. His swing has some loft, which aids in his above-average gap power, though his future home run output will likely be below-average. Plate discipline is one of La Stella’s primary skills that has been on display since his college days, and this trait will continue to serve him well as he climbs the ladder. On the basepaths, La Stella is a smart runner who knows how to choose his spots wisely, but he will never be a huge stolen base threat due to a lack of above-average speed. He is the type of defender who will always maximize his tools; the unfortunate realization, however, is that he will never be above-average due to poor lateral agility, poor hands, and an arm that is certainly lacking.
Future: The next step for La Stella should be a promotion to Mississippi, with a promotion to Gwinnett probable at some point in 2013. We should see expect more of the same from La Stella, though if he can improve his defense at least marginally, his stock would take a huge jump. Second basemen have to hit a ton in the minors in order to be projected for future starting roles in the majors, and luckily for La Stella, he can really hit. The worry, however, is that his defense forces him to a corner position, where the offensive demands are commensurate with the lowered defensive responsibilities. Another concern is his age — he will play 2013 as a 24-year-old in the Southern League. While he is certainly not ancient, time isn’t necessarily on his side, either.
12. Joe Terdoslavich: 1B/OF | S/R | 6’0”, 200 lbs. | Age: 24 | 6th round, 2010
Performance: Braves fans had high hopes for Terdoslavich in 2012 after his impressive 2011 campaign in which he infamously rapped out 52 doubles in Lynchburg, setting a new Carolina League record along the way. Braves officials responded to his success by promoting him to Gwinnett to begin 2012, thereby skipping Double-A altogether, while moving him across the diamond to third base. Terdoslavich struggled mightily in Triple-A, posting averages of .180/.252/.263 with eight extra-base hits and a 19:50 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 215 plate appearances. His defense at third base was perhaps even worse, committing 22 errors in 130 defensive chances. The Braves stopped the bleeding in the beginning of June, demoting him to Mississippi where he would spend the rest of the summer at first base. He performed much better in the Southern League, hitting .315/.372/.480 with five home runs, 24 doubles, five triples, and a 27:62 walk-to-strikeout ratio in 333 plate appearances. When compared to the Southern League, Terdoslavich posted a favorable strikeout rate, secondary average, and OPS (four percent, seven percent, and 20 percent better than league average, respectively). Keep in mind, however, that this came from a 23-year-old in Double-A who was occupying the lowest position on the defensive spectrum.
Tools: As is the case with a majority of first base prospects, Terdoslavich is not particularly tool-laden beyond the bat. On defense, his lateral agility is poor, his hands are like bricks, and his arm is below-average. The move to third base, while an understandable decision from a player development/positional maximization standpoint, was not going to work without major improvements, which he failed to make. He is a slow runner on the basepaths who can pick his spots, but will likely never be a threat at the highest level. The bat, on the other hand, is a legitimate plus in Terdoslavich’s favor. He utilizes a leg-raise trigger and is a tip-and-rip hitter from both sides of the plate. This loading mechanism creates early bat speed and aids with the separation of his hips and hands without getting long in the back. His swing has a tight arc through the zone with plenty of loft through contact. Taken as a whole, Terdoslavich possesses a swing that could produce 20 home runs and a .270-.280 average at maturity, though the lack of plate discipline certainly diminishes the probability of this coming to fruition.
Future: Terdoslavich should resurface in the International League to begin 2013. This time around, however, he will likely be playing first base and/or left field. At this point, all signs point to Terdoslavich providing major league value as a first base/left field bench bat who can be utilized in numerous situations due to his ability to hit from both sides of the plate and do so with efficacy. He’s not Chipper’s heir apparent — we all knew he wouldn’t be. This doesn’t mean he’s a terrible prospect, though.
11. Evan Gattis: OF/C | R/R | 6’4”, 230 lbs. | Age: 26 | 23rd round, 2009
Performance: Spring is upon us, and Evan Gattis is still the talk of the town among Braves media members. His story is well-documented, his destruction in batting practice is enough to make Davis from Mr. Baseball blush, and he even has this as his twitter profile picture. According to Franklin, he may also be a time traveler whose objectives include the abduction of Paul Maholm and the perpetuation of narratives for our favorite bold-flavor beat writer. When looking solely at the numbers, Gattis certainly had an eyebrow-raising campaign in 2012. After posting ridiculous numbers in High-A during the month of April, Gattis was promoted to Double-A, where he hit his way to a 139 wRC+ in 207 plate appearances. Over the course of the season, he posted averages of .305/.389/.607 with 18 home runs, 20 doubles, four triples, and a 31:43 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 314 plate appearances between Lynchburg, Mississippi, and the Gulf Coast League, where he played a four-game rehab stint after injuring his wrist in May. The big Texan split his time between catching and left field, nailing 39 percent of runners from behind the plate and committing one error in 52 chances in the outfield. He tore up the Venezuelan Winter League this offseason.
Tools: Gattis possesses plus raw power that is achieved by way of good bat speed and brute physical strength. He begins his stance in a crouched position with his left leg open. He loads his hands well, allowing his top hand to be involved in order to minimize bat wrap behind the helmet, which aids in the efficacy with which he controls the bat within the zone. When he reaches the launch position, the biggest concern is his lead arm and the extent to which it is extended (this is called an arm bar, for what it’s worth). As a swing enthusiast, I normally shy away from dinging hitters too much for possessing this trait, as it usually foretells good things in the power department and is, after all, a static position within the swing (i.e., there are so many other crucial aspects within a swing). The problem comes in, however, when the arm becomes a hindrance in delivering the barrel to inside velocity. If a hitter fails to break down this arm extension and breaks the link between his back shoulder and his hands, the only way he can get to an inside pitch is to yank like the dickens with his front side, which opens up holes with respect to secondary offerings on the outer-portion of the plate. The lower one goes in the minors, the harder it is to find a pitcher who can locate his fastball well on the inner-portion of the plate, so this is an issue he has likely yet to face. This should not pose a problem with fastballs out and over the plate, however — in all actuality, he should be able to crush these pitches. All of that wrapped up and tied neatly with a bow: Gattis has some inefficiencies in his swing that may lead to exploitation on the inner half as he nears the majors. He could obviously still succeed — there are players with much uglier swings who have performed well at the highest level. Unless he makes some adjustments, however, the potential for a multitude of broken bats is present. Behind the plate, the worry is that he will get too big for the position, negatively affecting his lateral agility and ability to block balls. He does, however, possess a strong arm and the ability to frame and track pitches well. On the whole, he’s not someone you would want behind the plate for 130+ games, but he could handle the position in small doses as a second or third option. He is not a fast runner, which has obvious implications if/when he plays left field, but he’s athletic enough to be able to handle the position at an adequate level.
Future: This is the elephant in the room, so to speak. Franklin’s assessment of the situation surrounding Gattis sums up my overall thoughts on him. We don’t dislike Gattis around here — none of us want to see him fail, as we all have a rooting interest in the team and, for the most part, the players who are employed by them. What we try to do, however, is look at the game in an objective manner in order to find trends that can help us better understand the past as a means of predicting the future. What we know about the past is that older hitting prospects can artificially boost their stock by beating up on both physically and developmentally inferior pitching, and that we as prognosticators can get too overly excited about outcomes that don’t really mean much when looking at these types of players. Evan Gattis, any way you slice it, is old as a prospect. Not only did he play 2012 as an “old” 25-year-old (August birthday), he was old for every league in which he played. Gattis is also extremely physically developed. Can you imagine that man, as he stands currently, playing for the Rome Braves in 2011? It was truly awesome to witness a full-grown 24-year-old hit bombs off of young, fresh-out-of-high-school 20-somethings. However, we must take a step back in the evaluation process due to the aforementioned concerns. Now, does this mean that we don’t think Gattis can provide major league value in the not-so-distant future? Of course not! His positional flexibility combined with the pop in his bat will almost certainly provide value in a bench role, possibly as soon as this year. The key to understanding our side of the argument in the ongoing Gattis debate is simple: temper expectations, or there’s a good chance that the masses will be let down. This is not to say that it’s an absolute that he will not develop into an above-average regular; rather, the odds of this happening are not particularly high, all things considered. This is actually a good lesson concerning prospecting in general: manage expectations accordingly, or you will inevitably get burned.
*All statistics/measures courtesy of Baseball Reference, Fangraphs, The Baseball Cube, Minor League Central, and Perfect Game USA.
February 21, 2013 at 9:01 am by Ben Duronio under Atlanta Braves
@Hipp0Toddamus: How can the Braves best utilize the DH spot in road games at AL parks this year?
I think there will be a variety of ways to tackle this, with the most likely being using it to give guys days off. I imagine against lefties that Reed Johnson finds his way into the lineup and one of the outfielders gets slotted in the DH spot, and against righties the Braves try and find a day for McCann to get some rest and also use Chris Johnson pretty regularly. If Gattis can really rake and makes the roster as a reserve, he would be a solid guy to use in the DH spot throughout the year as well. The Braves have two solid DH types at third base already, and with how regularly they will be playing in the platoon they will likely participate in, I would bet on one of those two leading the team in starts at DH by the end of the year.
@pharmongsu: Why shouldn’t BJ Upton lead off vs. LHP?
For his career, B.J. has a .260/.365/.433 line against left-handed pitching, good for a 119 wRC+ overall. He is definitely one of the team’s top hitters against left-handed pitching, and I think leading him off against southpaws is a great idea. The likelihood if it actually happening seems low at this point, as the team seems to really want to go with Simmons in the leadoff spot and for some reason they act as if this is one spot that is not good to rotate. Having him bat fifth against southpaws is still a good deal, and I imagine he will be driving in his brother pretty often in games against lefties.
@jbrundage: do you think the new added big bats will take pressure off of Uggla and he won’t struggle as much this season at the plate?
Over at CAC, the mental aspect of the game and “pressure” are things we try and avoid. Not that we don’t think they are a factor, but it is impossible to quantify and the analysis usually seems highly speculative. With that said, I do feel that Uggla could surprise us this year. He will be hitting seventh at the start of the year, and I doubt many teams will have a number seven hitter as good as Uggla. While his two years in Atlanta have been lackluster compared to expectations and compared to his performance in his final year in Florida, he still has posted consecutive years with a wRC+ above 100. His ISO dropping to .164 is not something to expect, but his walk rate will likely take a little dip back closer to his career rate as well. I think expecting a year like he had in 2007, when he hit .245/.326/.479 with a 105 wRC+ is reasonable to expect. The slugging percentage will probably be lower, something like .450 or so, but mid 20′s home runs and a decent OBP at the bottom of the lineup could be a huge part of the team’s offensive success. I think when people will look back on the year if he does perform at that level, they will state that the pressure of having a new set of right-handed hitters hitting higher in the order took the pressure off, but the more likely reason would be a regression back closer to his career norms.
@Harrisnye: Is Simmons already the best defensive SS in baseball or is that a ceiling he hasn’t actually reached yet?
I think by the end of the year, he will certainly have an argument for it. His arm is comparable to any of the game’s top shortstops, but I don’t think it is fair to Brendan Ryan to say that anyone is better than him at this point. Over the past four years, Ryan has averaged 22 defensive runs saved. Defensive stats are not the most trustworthy, but given a large sample size that helps mitigate the noise you can make relatively accurate assumptions about a player’s overall defensive skill. Ryan has consistently performed as the game’s top defensive shortstop over the past number of years, so Simmons will have to take a back seat to him for the time being. I think it is a stretch to assume Simmons will post those kinds of defensive numbers over that long of a stretch, but it is reasonable to expect 10+ defensive runs saved during his six year pre-free agent stretch in Atlanta.