has turned heads with his strong defensive skills at shortstop ever since the Braves picked him in the second round of the 2010 Draft. He's got speed, range and a spectacular arm.
But it's been his offense that's earned him even more notice this season with Lynchburg. Simmons made a few subtle adjustments at the plate that have paid off handsomely and helped him remain near the top of the Carolina League leaders in average for much of 2011.
Simmons' .295 average is second to only Jose Martinez, who was promoted to Double-A after batting .314 in 79 games with Winston-Salem. Still in search of his first home run, Simmons has 48 runs scored, 37 RBIs, 23 doubles and 16 steals through 99 games and made the Carolina/California League All-Star Game earlier this summer.
He also earned a spot on the post-season Appalachian League All-Star team last year after batting .276 in 62 games with Danville. Simmons is a contact hitter who doesn't strike out much -- he's fanned just 51 times in 622 professional at-bats -- but his work on remaining more patient has proved beneficial in 2011.
"They always tell you to trust your hands ... and I can let the ball get a bit deeper and start my swing a bit later," Simmons said. "I'm still learning. I'm still not perfect. I still jump a bit. You can't just learn it right away. You've got to work on it."
Simmons keeps working on his pitch recognition, meaning he's got to wait longer before deciding to swing. He said that focus is a big reason for his success this season. It's also helped Simmons become a good clutch hitter. He has an impressive .342 average with runners in scoring position.
The patience is paying off.
"I learned how to be a hitter," Simmons said. "I'm a different hitter in different situations. It's just starting to click this year -- the basics, things you already know. Now, [I have] just a bit more experience, and I'm learning how to deal with it."
The improved offense makes Simmons a more complete player, since he's already a talented defender. He played shortstop and pitched at Western Oklahoma State College, throwing fastballs in the mid-90s.
Simmons wanted to play shortstop after being drafted. His combination of speed and range lets him gobble up most balls in his area and also easily throw out people from deep the hole, a calling card for any shortstop.
"This kid is unbelievable at shortstop, and he's going to do better," said Lynchburg manager Luis Salazar. "He can go to the big leagues and play good [defense] for you right now."
Simmons has made 20 errors this year, but he said most of those have been on throws and possibly being too aggressive at times -- which can be fixed.
For the future, the 6-foot-2, 170-pound Simmons wants to keep improving at the plate since that makes him a solid all-around player who could have a chance to make the Major Leagues.
"I'll keep doing what I'm doing and getting better at it," Simmons said. "[My] goal for next year is to be heavier and stronger, and that [should] help my hitting a lot."
Staying hot: Frederick won the Northern Division's first-half, and the Keys are doing even better in the second half. They went 41-28 in the first half and are a league-best 24-12 in the second half with a four-game lead over Potomac.
Good start: Salem's Chris Martin hasn't had any problems adjusting to the Carolina League, giving up just two runs in his first 25 1/3 innings. He's struck out 13, walked just three and has an impressive 0.71 ERA in his first nine games.
Sheer perfection: Travis Adair of Myrtle Beach got hits in 10 straight at-bats over a four-game stretch last week. He went 9-for-9 over three games against Lynchburg before getting a hit in his first at-bat in the next game (against Winston-Salem). Adair also walked twice during that stretch.