Braves general manager Frank Wren continues to shake up his NL East-leading club’s roster, promoting right-handed reliever Shae Simmons straight from Double-A Mississippi on Friday night. Simmons is expected to join the major league club on Saturday afternoon at Marlins Park, according to MLB.com’s Mark Bowman.
Left-handed rookie reliever Ian Thomas was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett in a corresponding move.
Simmons’s fast rise through the minors to the major-league level — the 23-year-old was a 22nd round selection in the 2012 MLB Draft — comes just three days after Wren made headlines by calling up rookie second baseman Tommy La Stella, and the choice to make a change in the bullpen comes after the Braves failed to close out the Boston Red Sox multiple times earlier in the week.
With righty reliever Jordan Walden still on the disabled list since the beginning of May, Simmons, a Southeast Missouri State product, may be just a place-holder until the relief corps, which is also still awaiting the recovery of left-hander Johnny Venters, gets healthy. Still, the quick promotion of Simmons, who has never even played at the Triple-A level, should not be ignored.
After a successful start to his professional career in rookie ball, Simmons exploded onto the minor-league scene when he moved up to Single-A Rome and Double-A Mississippi and posted a 1.69 ERA in 53 1/3 innings pitched last season. That collective effort was highlighted by 82 strikeouts and 22 walks. After being invited to the Braves camp in spring training — he posted a 5.40 ERA in six spring training appearances — Simmons went back to Mississippi and kept his strikeouts high, cut down on his walks and made himself, in Wren’s mind, a useful option with the big club.
A reliever fit in the Craig Kimbrel mold as a 5-foot-11, 175-pound power arm, the book on Simmons is that he is yet another potential closer in the Braves system, owning a 95-plus mile per hour fastball to go with an impressive slider.
Overall, the Braves still own the third-best bullpen WAR in baseball this season, trailing only the Red Sox and Yankees. Entering Friday night, they ranked first in fielding-independent pitching, second in bullpen ERA and third in strikeouts per nine innings.
Simmons is set to join La Stella and pitchers Thomas, David Hale and Gus Schlosser as rookies to play for Atlanta in 2014.