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Braves' Simmons confident he can handle leadoff spot

The SportsXchange

Andrelton Simmons got to play in just two Grapefruit League games with the Atlanta Braves before heading off for the World Baseball Classic, but at least the slick-fielding young shortstop will get to continue his new role at the plate while away.

The 23-year-old native of the Dutch island of Curacao will bat in the leadoff spot for the Netherlands at the WBC -- just as he is penciled in to do for the Braves in 2013.

"The way the roster shapes up, there's really no other guy that we could give that opportunity," Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez said.

That really doesn't sound like a glowing endorsement, but Gonzalez feels that Simmons is very capable of hitting first in the order despite having only 49 major league games under his belt. Just don't expect him to work pitchers deep in the count.

Simmons likes to swing the bat, and when he does, he usually makes contact.

"I don't think he needs to change anything with the approach to be in the leadoff spot," Gonzalez said. "I think he's going to be in a good spot with all the veteran hitters behind him. I don't think he needs to do anything to compensate."

Simmons' defense was as good as advertised after he was promoted from Class AA Mississippi last June, and the shortstop surpassed expectations at the plate.

Simmons hit .289 despite having his season interrupted by a broken hand. He posted a .335 on-base percentage with 12 walks and 21 strikeouts. He had 13 extra-base hits while usually hitting eighth in the batting order.

With the addition of Justin Upton and B.J. Upton, the Braves could have six players with 20 or more homers this season. But do they have an adequate leadoff hitter to replace Michael Bourn?

Simmons, confident beyond his years, is determined to win over the doubters.

"I like hearing the criticism a little bit. It drives me," he said. "So I'm going to show people I can lead off. I'm going to show people I can hit there."

Having a full Grapefruit League season with the Braves would have been beneficial, but Simmons felt that he had an obligation to play in the WBC. He left immediately after the Feb. 23 game against the Yankees for the 20-hour flight to Taiwan and likely will be away from camp for about two weeks.

"I don't want to leave here, to be honest," Simmons said before departing Florida. "The games just started. But I guess I need to go. I want to go. But at the same time, I don't want to leave."
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