Andrelton Simmons was anointed the “best player” in the Atlanta Braves’ minor league system in 2011 by Baseball America.
The 22-year-old shortstop from Curacao led the Class A Carolina League in hitting with a .311 average and added 35 doubles, 52 RBIs and 26 stolen bases. And defense is reputedly his best skill.
More to the point here, Simmons likely will be the Mississippi Braves’ shortstop in 2012, which is something to look forward to over the long off-season.
It figures that most of the M-Braves’ frontline players from 2011 won’t be back.
The top pitchers were gone before the season ended, which means we’ll probably see the likes of Zeke Spruill, Aaron Shafer, Matt Crim and Chris Masters — all of whom finished in Pearl — heading up the rotation. Some familiar names could be back in the bullpen: Billy Bullock, Brett Butts, Yeliar Castro and Luis Avilan. Ryan Buchter, who had 15 saves at Class A Lynchburg, is a good candidate to move up.
Among starting position players, right fielder Cory Harrilchak (.266, seven homers) and center fielder Mycal Jones (.252, seven homers) probably need another Double-A season.
Four outfielders posted nice numbers at Lynchburg and could make the jump next spring: Adam Milligan (.291, 12 homers), Keenan Wiley (.285, 19 stolen bases), L.V. Ware (.251, seven homers, 14 steals) and Todd Cunningham (.257).
At catcher, highly rated prospect Christian Bethancourt (.271 at Lynchburg) may also be ready for Double-A. But if not, Matthew Kennelly (.262 for the M-Braves) and Braeden Schlehuber (.233) could again man that spot.
At first base, look for converted third baseman Joey Terdoslavich, who hit .286 with 20 homers and a Carolina League-record 52 doubles at Lynchburg.
Phil Gosselin (.264, six homers, 63 RBIs at Lynchburg) figures to play second base, with Joe Leonard (.247, eight, 63) in line to take over at third.
Off-season moves by Atlanta could impact the M-Braves’ 2012 roster, of course, but the core of the club likely will be made up by many of the players named above. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll have the right stuff for a championship for a change. In seven years, the M-Braves have produced bushels of talent but just two playoff teams and one Southern League pennant, that coming in 2008.