Simmons gets surprising callup, quick intro to bigs
MIAMI -- After Double-A Mississippi swept Friday's doubleheader against Pensacola, manager Aaron Holbert delivered a congratulatory postgame speech that concluded with him slyly uttering, "And [Shae] Simmons is going to the big leagues."
"I didn't know what to say after that," Simmons, a right-hander reliever, said. "I was like, 'Are you being serious? Or are you messing around right now?'"
Given that Simmons -- rated 17th on the Braves' Top 20 Prospects list -- is just two years removed from being selected in the 22nd round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, it is remarkable that he has already received his first call to the Majors. But a quick glance at the numbers he has produced for Mississippi this year shows why the Braves determined he is already suited to strengthen their bullpen, which has missed the injured Jordan Walden's presence.
Simmons took a 6 a.m. CT flight out of Pearl, Miss., experienced a short layover in Atlanta, and arrived in Miami around 11 a.m. ET on Saturday. Approximately eight hours later, he learned there is not always an opportunity to get adjusted to life at the big league level.
With two on and two outs in the eighth inning of Saturday's 9-5 win over the Marlins, Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez gave Simmons the assignment to preserve a one-run lead. Hopped up on an abundance of coffee he consumed as he sat in the bullpen, the young reliever took the ball and needed just three pitches to stomp out the threat by striking out Jarrod Saltalamacchia.
"I calmed down real fast afterwards, I don't know why," Simmons said. "I guess I was just so anxious all day. Once I got out there, it was just normal. I had drank a whole bottle of coffee, because it felt like I was going to doze off out there [in the bullpen]. Then all the guys started talking and said, 'Just treat it like any other game.'"
Simmons, 23, posted an 0.78 ERA and recorded 30 strikeouts while issuing just six walks in 23 innings for Mississippi. The young hurler possesses a live four-seam fastball that has rested above 95 mph, an above-average slider and a split-finger fastball that has improved as he has thrown it more frequently this year.
But having only seen him for a few weeks during Spring Training, Braves players did not know much about the newest member of their bullpen. As they walked to their positions after the eighth-inning pitching change, Andrelton Simmons playfully told Chris Johnson that the young right-hander throws "87 [mph] with sink."
After the first pitch registered 94 mph, Simmons just looked at the bewildered Johnson and laughed.
"If he's up here, he's there for a reason," Braves catcher Gerald Laird said. "Might as well throw him into the fire right away and see what he's got. I like it. I looked up at the radar gun and saw 94 and 96 mph. He's just another live arm. He's got good stuff."
Gonzalez said his decision to call upon Simmons in this situation was influenced by the presence of Laird, who has proven to be quite valuable to young pitchers during his career.
"It's not a perfect world in the Major Leagues, and sure enough, here we go, you've got first and second with two outs in the eighth inning and you've got to get him in," Gonzalez said. "The kid did a nice job. Good for us and good for him. What a way to break into the big leagues."
While many clubs shied away from Simmons as his velocity dropped because of fatigue during his final year at Southeast Missouri State, Braves veteran scout Terry Tripp kept tabs on the hurler and convinced the club it was worth using a later-round selection on him.
"It's overwhelming," Simmons said of his promotion. "I feel very fortunate and just blessed with the opportunity God's given me and the Braves have given me."
As Simmons progressed through his first full professional season last year with Class A Lynchburg, the Braves knew they had something special in this 5-foot-11, 175-pounder, who has drawn comparisons to the young version of Craig Kimbrel.
Simmons came to his first Major League Spring Training this year as one of Atlanta's most intriguing non-roster invitees. Along with taking advantage of the opportunity to display his talented arm, he was also humbled by the club's veterans.
After making the mistake of hopping in a golf cart that passed the veterans as they walked to the clubhouse from one of the back fields, Simmons found himself forced to ride a pink bicycle as he went from station to station during the Spring Training morning workouts.
"I know I looked kind of silly on it," Simmons said. "Don't tell anybody, but it was kind of nice having a ride from field to field."
B.J. Upton was one of the masterminds behind the pink bike idea. Before Saturday's game, he smiled and said, "We're not done with him yet."
Then when told of Simmons saying it was nice to have a set of wheels to take him around the Spring Training facility, Upton said, "See what I mean?"
The Braves are hoping to see Simmons continue to benefit from this advanced level of self-confidence that has helped him reach the Major League level much sooner than anybody could have imagined two years ago.