Simmons discusses his favorite players to watch
Everywhere around Andrelton Simmons, there is an emphasis on defense at the highest level.
Take, for instance, the sign that awaits the Braves shortstop and his teammates after they stroll down the tunnel from the home clubhouse at Turner Field to the dugout. The sign involves, well, defense, with a list of the franchise's fielding accolades through the decades.
Then there is Braves right fielder Nick Markakis, who spent Thursday night at home against the Red Sox playing his 393rd consecutive game without an error, a Major League record.
Still, nothing tops this when it comes to the Braves and their obsession with defensive excellence: The greatness of Simmons, who is the most prolific fielder of his time regardless of position. This is his fourth Major League season, but he already has two Gold Glove Awards, a National League Rawlings Platinum Glove and enough ridiculous plays at shortstop to fill highlight shows from now through the rest of the century.
Actually, when you consider what Simmons does on a consistent basis with his glove, arm, legs and instincts, he is even greater than everything I just mentioned. So what better person to ask than Simmons about his favorite Major League defender to watch at every position?
"I like (Jason) Heyward in right field," Simmons said, without hesitation, sitting and thinking in the home dugout at Turner Field. This is the same Heyward who captured two Gold Gloves as Simmons' teammate before Heyward was dealt during the past offseason to the Cardinals.
Markakis also has two Gold Gloves, but Simmons studied Heyward up close and personal for three years. "(Heyward) covers a lot of ground, and what he gets to, he catches," Simmons said. "Makes good throws to the bags."
The same goes for Mets center fielder Juan Lagares. That is, when Lagares is healthy. Lagares is battling ligament issues these days in his right elbow, but he still ranks as Simmons' favorite in center.
Said Simmons, "He's just outstanding out there, and I enjoy what he does. But left field, wow. Who do we have in left field? Well, I've seen (Alex) Gordon on television. I haven't played against him a lot, but he's pretty good out there. He's always busting his butt to get to balls, and he actually dives and makes the plays.
"I mean, sometimes you see guys just diving all over the place and catching balls, but if you really pay attention, you see the guy took a really bad route, or he took a bad jump. But I've seen Gordon out there, and he gets good jumps, and when he dives, he gets to it. He just makes good plays."
Speaking of "dives" and" good plays," nobody is better at those things around third base than the Rockies' Nolan Arenado. OK, maybe the Orioles' Manny Machado.
"Man. That's tough," Simmons said, pausing for a long time.
Arenado already has two Gold Gloves at 24. Machado has one, but Machado also is just 22, and get this: Machado captured that Gold Glove in 2013 during his only full season in a Major League career filled with injuries.
In addition, Machado was the American League's version of Simmons two years ago by grabbing that league's version of the Rawling's Platinum Glove. Machado often is compared with Orioles legend Brooks Robinson, considered the best third baseman ever. Simmons shook his head, adding, "Pick your poison. Either one is the best choice."
There is only one choice at shortstop -- Simmons, but since he isn't allowed to pick himself, he'll go with . . . who? Simmons thought, and then he thought some more.
"Um, I don't know," Simmons said, and I don't know, either. When it comes to a Major League defender ranking this far ahead of his next-closest peer at a given position, Simmons is in that tiny conversation with Roberto Clemente, Johnny Bench and Brooks Robinson. There also is Ozzie Smith, the quintessential Gold Glove shortstop for 13 consecutive years. Simmons is threatening to become the Smith of his generation.
"Picking a shortstop for me, I'll tell you. That's tough stuff," Simmons said, still thinking before I offered the Marlins' Adeiny Hechavarria as a possibility. "Yeah, he's good, and there are a lot of choices. You see (the Giants' Brandon) Crawford make some plays. You see Hechavarria make some plays. You see (the Tigers' Jose) Iglesias make some plays.
"But for me, I've seen that kid for the Royals, Alcides Escobar, and he'll do something, and I'll go, 'Now that was pretty good.'"
Then again, there is the superlative play at second base of the Mariners' Robinson Cano.
"It's like picking what type you want," Simmons said. "Do you want a guy that's smoother, which is Cano, or do you want the guy with full effort in Escobar, but they both make plays."
First base . . . Simmons laughed, then said, "(Freddie) Freeman." That's the Braves first baseman who stretches as well as anybody in the game, and he also does everything else on defense at an advanced level.
"He's been outstanding for me," Simmons said. "You've got to take advantage of what you have, and I have Freeman. All I have to do is keep the throws down, and it always gives me a chance. If I miss down, he'll make it happen most of the time."
Finally, we were down to pitcher and catcher, but with no Greg Maddux in sight (18 Gold Gloves), I told Simmons to end with catcher. He didn't hesitate to mention the no-brainer that is the Cardinals' Yadier Molina, owner of seven Gold Gloves and three NL Platinum Gloves.
"You've got to have respect for what he does," Simmons said. "He's smooth behind the plate. He throws runners out. He makes the pitching staff good. He makes the strike zone huge."
OK. So out of all of those defenders, if Simmons had to pick his Ultimate Platinum Glove guy, who would that be?
"Pick one?" Simmons said, wide eyed. "I mean, all of those guys are fun to watch, and they all make you say, 'How did he do that?' But if I had to pick one . . . To be honest, it would be between Lagares and Heyward.
Lagares just makes stupid plays, where it's like, 'Don't hit it to center field.' He's going to come in and get it, and he's going to go back and get it. Heyward covers stupid ground, too. So I don't know. That's tough."
This isn't: Simmons tops them all.