Southern notes: Gregorius gets inspired

Pensacola shortstop has eyes on bigs after friend's promotion

Didi Gregorius is batting .282 with 31 RBIs and three steals. (Pensacola Blue Wahoos)

By Guy Curtright / Special to | July 10, 2012 6:21 AM ET

When Andrelton Simmons was promoted from Mississippi to Atlanta at the end of May, the South Division need a replacement at shortstop for the Southern League All-Star Game two weeks later.

It wasn't hard picking the replacement. Pensacola's Didi Gregorius and Simmons are more than just both 22-year-olds from Curacao.

"I watch him play and I see myself," said Simmons, who has played so well in Atlanta that he was the National League Rookie of the Month for June. "We think the same. We play the game the same."

No surprise, really. Simmons and Gregorius have known each other since they were 5 or 6 and played on the same team growing up on an island off the coast of Venezuela in the Dutch West Indies.

"We were a good team. We didn't lose many games," Gregorius said of those youth-team days. "Really, we hardly lost at all."

"It didn't matter which one of us pitched," Simmons said, "the other team wasn't going to hit either one of us."

Those cannon-like arms are still on display, as well as outstanding range and soft hands. Simmons has already made his mark in the Major Leagues. Gregorius, Cincinnati's No. 4 prospect, may not be that far away.

Born while his father was playing baseball in Amsterdam, Gregorius signed with the Reds at 17 and was added to Cincinnati's 40-man roster over the winter. Invited to Spring Training for the first time, he hit .300 in 15 Cactus League games and was introduced to Great American Ball Park in the Reds' Futures Game before the start of the season.

Most of the talk has been about top-ranked Reds prospect Billy Hamilton being on pace to set the Minor League stolen base record at Bakersfield in the Class A Advanced California League, prior to his promotion this week to Pensacola. Although Gregorius certainly doesn't have Hamilton's speed on the bases, he is a more advanced overall hitter right now than his fellow shortstop and a much more highly regarded defender.

A left-handed swinger, Gregorius was batting .282 with 31 RBIs in 80 games through Sunday. His on-base percentage was .348 and he had eight triples among his 20 extra-base hits.

It is on defense, though, where Gregorius really stands out. He has cut down on his error totals each season and makes all the routine plays as well as the flashy ones.

"It may look easy now, but I've had to work hard to be like this," said Gregorius, who reached Double-A at midseason a year ago. "I wasn't that good [of a] fielder at first."

When neither Simmons or Gregorius were pitching as kids, it was Simmons who got to play shortstop and Gregorius had to move to second base.

"I liked shortstop best," Gregorius said. "But I didn't mind moving over."

Simmons and Gregorius, who lived about 10 minutes from each other and always attended the same schools, faced each other in two Southern League series during May.

"We couldn't try anything against each other," Simmons said. "We can read each other's mind."

Gregorius' father, also known as Didi, is a legendary pitcher in Curacao. "Everyone knows him," Simmons said. "He must be in his 50s, but he still pitches."

Gregorius didn't follow his father's path as a pitcher. Simmons also picked the infield over the mound, although he did both in junior college after coming do the United States. In fact, Simmons was originally drafted by the Braves as a pitcher.

Gregorius and Simmons may be reunited for the World Baseball Classic next spring, both as candidates to play for the Netherlands.

"That would be great," Gregorius said. "I definitely hope I get to play."

Simmons and Gregorius remain close friends. The next time they play against each other, it will likely be in the Major Leagues.

"He's a very good player," Simmons said. "Someday he will be up here, too."

In brief

Streak over: Jackson closer Carter Capps hadn't allowed an earned run in 28 innings over 21 appearances since April 29 before giving up two while getting just one out in the 11th inning of a walk-off loss at Mississippi on July 6. The right-hander had held opponents scoreless in 27 of his previous 30 appearances and converted 14 of 15 save opportunities while posting a 1.11 ERA with 60 strikeouts to 10 walks in 40 2/3 innings. Capps is Seattle's No. 8 prospect.

Suns come up short: Jacksonville lost three starting pitchers in less than a week, and one of the replacements didn't get into a game before being part of a Major League trade. Graham Taylor (hamstring) and Jose Alvarez (groin) went on the disabled list and Omar Poveda was promoted to Triple-A New Orleans. Rob Rasmussen was moved up from Jupiter of the Class A Advanced Florida State League to take one of the spots, but he was sent to Houston by Miami as part of the Carlos Lee deal on the day he was supposed to make his debut for the Suns.

Rohan starts fast: Greg Rohan was 4-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs in his first start for Tennessee after being moved up from Class A Advanced Daytona. Through eight games, he was hitting .360 with five doubles, a homer and six RBIs while playing third base and left field. Rohan, 26, was leading the Florida State League with 65 RBIs in 75 games when he was promoted. He had a .285 average and 12 homers.

Fernandez dominates: Left-hander Anthony Fernandez posted a 1.08 ERA while winning his first three starts for Jackson after being elevated from the Class A Advanced California League. The native of the Dominican Republic went nine innings in each of his first two starts, one a two-hit shutout, and seven innings in his third. Fernandez, 22, struck out 17 and walked three in 23 innings. He was 2-5 with a 3.68 ERA at High Desert.

Guy Curtright is a contributor to This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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