Simmons aims to break out at plate for Halos

Elite defender hopes to improve on offense with new team

Simmons aims to break out at plate for Halos

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Shortly after the Angels swung their big trade in the middle of November, their incumbent second baseman, Johnny Giavotella, went on YouTube and typed "Andrelton Simmons" into the search bar. Robust highlight packages from each of Simmons' three full seasons with the Braves instantly came up. So Giavotella clicked on a couple, to study the man he hoped to turn double plays with and, really, "to see what all the hype was about."

It didn't take long.

"Pretty amazing," Giavotella recalled. "I was kind of just amazed at how easily he was able to make difficult plays."

Giavotella saw Simmons sprint near left-field warning tracks for over-the-shoulder catches, throw runners out at home plate with precise, darting throws, drift well up the middle to begin double plays and range deep into the hole to convert singles into outs.

He saw a man who is widely considered the game's best defender, no matter the position; a two-time Gold Glove Award winner who has compiled a Major League-best 94 Defensive Runs Saved since the start of the 2013 season.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez is frequently asked to describe his favorite Simmons play, and he'll usually say, "The next one."

His arm, Gonzalez said, is "off the charts," making Simmons "the best cutoff-and-relay guy I've ever seen."

"As an outfielder, I love it," said Todd Cunningham, who teamed with Simmons on the Braves and is now with him on the Angels. "Just make sure he touches it. Just float it to him. Don't overthrow it, and you have a chance. He's a game-changer; that's just the bottom line."

Simmons' leaping grab

The Angels gave up a lot for Simmons -- a top-tier prospect in Sean Newcomb, a franchise cornerstone in Erick Aybar and a solid young pitcher in Chris Ellis -- because he brings so much defense to such a critical position.

But what if he could tap into more offense?

Simmons has batted an underwhelming .252/.301/.357 over the last three years, his .658 OPS the eighth-lowest among qualified hitters over that stretch. But he makes a lot of contact, with the third-best strikeout rate in the Major Leagues since 2013. He has power, as evidenced by the 17 home runs he hit in his first full season. His hands are quick, and his bat stays through the zone a long time.

"That," Angels hitting coach Dave Hansen said, "is the recipe."

Hansen believes Simmons, still only 26, just needs to keep his approach to the middle of the field and not try to pull the ball so frequently, as he was prone to do in Atlanta.

"I'm still a right-handed hitter, and I'm still not flawless, so I'll be early on some balls and I'll pull them," Simmons said. "But I feel like I got a lot better with it. I'm happy with where I was to where I'm at now."

Simmons' two-run homer

Simmons grew up in Curacao with a brother who is six years his senior. They used to beam baseballs at each other from a close distance, competing to see who would make the first error. Simmons was 6-foot-1 and only 150 pounds by the age of 20, giving serious thought to a career in soccer until a man named Kurt Russell recruited him to a small school named Western Oklahoma State College.

There, and everywhere, Simmons blew people away with the strength of his throwing arm and the quickness of his feet, but also with his intelligence and unrelenting work ethic.

Russell marveled at how dirty Simmons' uniform got before games even began. Longtime Braves coach Terry Pendleton talked about how he used to walk away from hitting him grounders so Simmons didn't work his way onto the disabled list. And Simmons himself acknowledged that his struggles offensively might have come from trying a little too hard.

There's a reason for that.

"I always felt like I had to catch up to people, and if you don't have it, you have to work for it," Simmons said. "It's about how you perceive yourself and where you want to be. You try to get there, and you don't stop until you get there. That's where I get mine from. I want to be somewhere, and I know I'm not there yet. I can't stop until I'm there."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for Follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez and Facebook , and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.