Japan v Netherlands - World Baseball Classic Second Round Pool 1

It would seem as though the hype behind Andrelton Simmons is not without merit. The 23-year old Braves shortstop has become the breakout star of the World Baseball Classic, leading his Dutch team all the way to the semi finals, hitting for surprising power in addition to his normally superb defense.

This isn’t the first time Andrelton Simmons turned heads during the month of March. He a big splash last season after he nearly won the Braves starting shortstop job out of Spring Training, only to take over the role full time after his service time was safely within Super Two range at the beginning of June.

Simmons turned heads during the Braves spring campaign, despite never playing above A ball. After posting strong numbers in his first trip through Double-A, Simmons more than held his own at the big league level. Before a hand injury knocked him out for two months in July, Simmons hit .296/.336/.452 while playing superlative defense at shortstop during his first month at the big league level.

The early returns were good but it was just a short exposure to big league pitching. After returning from injury in September, Simmons numbers were a little more pedestrian, posting just a .297 wOBA in a near-meaningless 57 plate appearances. Braves fans could be hopeful for Simmons future while tempering their expectations.

Until the World Baseball Classic started. Simmons’ incredible performance vaulted the Netherlands into the semifinals and Simmons back in the conversation as the future of the Braves franchise.

Nobody who watches Simmons play can doubt his glove. The range, as evidenced above, is legit. He has a cannon arm and quick feet – his defense was never in question. His ability to play shortstop was long his calling card. It was his defense which put him into the Braves SS conversation in the first place.

Offensively, Simmons has made the most strides. As recently as one year ago, Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus ranked Simmons as the Braves fifth best prospect, praising his glove while wondering about his ability to do anything offensively at the big league level, worrying he is capable of “little offensively other than show the potential to hit for average. He has well below-average power with little projection and needs to develop better plate discipline.” Later in the same piece, Goldstein called his perfect world projection an everyday player with “a decent, but empty, batting average.”

Goldstein’s former BP colleague made similar notes, ranking Simmons among the “glove only” tier of shortstop prospects after the 2011 season. Fast-forward one year and Andrelton Simmons is changing minds and opening doors. His clutch eighth inning home run in the deciding game with Cuba came on a decent looping curve. Simmons stayed back on the pitch and drove it out to left field.

Simmons hit another home run today in a losing effort, leading off the game with Japan by turning on this BP fastball right down the middle from Japanese starter Kenji Otonari sending it out a long way to left-center, over the high wall at the Tokyo Dome.

Hitting in the WBC ain’t hitting the NL East. Cagey junkballers and smoke and mirrors Cubans aren’t quite Stephen Strasburg and Cliff Lee. But the ability to hit pitching – any pitching – for power seems like a pleasant surprise from Simmons.

Without going all the way to calling Simmons a star, as David Schoenfield of ESPN did yesterday, let’s just say this run of big swings makes the future for Andrelton Simmons more exciting by the minute.

Just two years into his professional career, it is not beyond the realm of possibility that Simmons made great strides in his plate coverage and power. It is also entirely possible that real pitching will expose the many holes in his young and less-than-refined swing. PECOTA only projects Simmons for .258/.295/.357 in 2013. Not awful for a shortstop, especially one with the obvious defensive gifts of Andrelton Simmons.

Though not the most patient hitter in baseball, nothing among Simmons rates jump out as red flags for regression. Not an overabundance of swing and miss nor an abnormally high BABIP appear problematic, on a superficial basis anyway.

Like Salvador Perez of the Kansas City Royals, injury shortened his season and sustained the hype until a few trips through the league allow “information” to overtake “wishcasting” in the discussion of Simmons’ future. Based on his current display, there is nothing wrong with Braves fans imagining a world with Andrelton Simmons as an All Star shortstop for the next six years.