In today's Spring Training game against the Diamondbacks, brand new Angel Andrelton Simmons did two things that fans are hoping to see more of come regular season: make great defensive plays at shortstop, and get on base with his bat. I don't think anybody is worried about the defense part, of course. The flashy glove and ungodly arm is not only the meat and potatoes of Simmons' game, it's the side salad, complimentary bread and large soda, as well. When you bring Andrelton Simmons onto your squad, it's a defense first move; he's one of the few players in MLB right now with a glove so amazing that you're willing to forgive some ugly sins at the plate. That's not to say his bat is all that bad. In fact, it's improving. So what can we expect from Simba to do this year in that offensive department?
So i'm sure nobody is shocked or surprised to learn he made a nifty little play at SS today, but what IS good news is he got his first hit of Spring Training, although it took him 9 ABs to do so. There were many grumblings from fans that I witnessed first-hand in the aftermath of the big trade that sent Erick Aybar and the two top Angels pitching prospects to the Braves in return for Simmons. Typically, the main gripe was that his numbers with the bat weren't anything that'd immediately help the Halos, and the team should have gone after a bigger difference maker. What was lost on people with this attitude was that Simmons IS a difference maker, only with his previously mentioned lights out defense. But he's quietly becoming more potent at the plate, and if 2015 is any indication, Simba's bat looks to be trending upward.
In his first few seasons with Atlanta(he played 49 games in 2012 and had his first full season in 2013), Simmons was always trying to hit the ball out of the park. He'd post some unseemly AVGs in the mid .240 range, but the ISO numbers would be .127 and .149 in 2012 and 2013, respectively. He also had 17 homers in that 2013 season, not TOO shabby, but you could still see some glaring deficiencies and holes in his game just by taking a quick look at his sub-.300 OBP in his first two full seasons of MLB play. The guy liked to take some big hacks, and paid the price.
That was probably more a symptom of the Braves system at the time, as well as a plain old lack of good plate discipline and mechanics. Most scouts thought Simmons couldn't even hit the .240 AVG mark when he was coming out of a junior college in Oklahoma or making his way through the Braves' minor league system. But the dude is just so talented and athletic, and seems to learn as quickly as a velociraptor(or Mike Trout). Pretty soon he was a passable big league SS at the plate, and a legend on the defensive side of things; that's enough to keep you in the show, but there was room for improvement.
The Braves hired new hitting coach Kevin Seitzer in late 2014, mainly to change the approach of some of their players who seemed to focus first on hitting the cover off the ball, and just making contact was a distant second. Seitzer changed all of that, and in the process, gave Simmons his best offensive year overall. In 2015, the AVG got up to a career best .265 and his OBP was finally nudged over the .300 mark(.321 to be exact). Other changes in the stat sheet? His K rate went to a career low 8.2%, and his BB rate went to a career best 6.7%. It seemed that Kevin Seitzer's focus on being patient, making contact, and cutting out the swinging for the fences was working.
This is where it gets tricky. We know that Simmons is extremely talented, and better yet, he's shown ability all throughout his baseball career to soak up knowledge and apply it to his game. On top of that, Seitzer had set him on the right path to success in 2015, but now Simmons finds himself with the Angels, and a new hitting coach in Dave Hansen. I really hope that the Angels staff can continue to focus on the mistakes the Braves attempted to correct in Simmons' swing last year. Simmons is the type of guy that could STILL be improving his offense, but he'll need to be nudged in the right direction by Hansen.
You're not going to get a ton of speed out of him, or stolen bases. You should not expect home runs. What we need is contact hitting and walks, plain and simple. The bottom of the angels order is totally up in the air at this point; it could be a laughing stock or it could be serviceable, and Simmons will be a big factor in deciding which descriptor they're given. As long as Dave Hansen can keep him focused on his great contact rate, and not regressing into his ugly pull-hitting tendencies, then I have no doubt that we'll see his AVG tick up to the .275-.280 range, while the OBP steadily rises, as well. It would be a godsend. He'll still hit the odd homer here and there, too, but keep your eyes on the OBP prize, Simba. That's where you'll help this team the most(well, besides the crazy amount of runs he'll save on defense).
Andrelton Simmons is mainly known for his endless stream of glove-oriented highlight reel plays, but don't sleep on his bat. His offense is trending upwards, now it's just up to the Angels to continue to nudge him in right direction. If he can make his bat work come up anywhere near the level his glove is at right now, then we're talking perennial All Star here.