Simmons evolves on journey from Scott City to Southeast and now MLB spring training

Thursday, January 23, 2014
Shae Simmons' baseball journey started at Scott City High School before he moved on to Southeast Missouri State University. Most recently, he played for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the prestigious Arizona Fall League as a representative of the Atlanta Braves. (Southeast Missourian and Associated Press photos)

For most people, getting the chance to go to Major League Baseball's spring training is a vacation and an opportunity to watch their favorite team play baseball.

But for former Southeast Missouri State baseball player and Scott City graduate Shae Simmons, it is the next step in an accelerated journey through minor league baseball.

Simmons, drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the 22nd round of the 2012 MLB draft, was one of 22 non-roster invitees to the Braves' spring training.

"It made me feel good because I've worked so hard to make it to this point," Simmons said.

Simmons, a right-handed pitcher, reports to spring training Feb. 13. The Braves hold spring workouts at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

"It's a profession, so everybody in there is going to be acting like professionals," Simmons said. "Once I get in there, it's going to be my job to kind of find the guys that have been there and know what's going on and learn from them. That way, I can see how they go about their day-to-day business."

When Simmons was drafted after his junior season with the Redhawks, he never expected he'd make it to the point he's at this quickly.

He started out at the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League Braves before moving up to the Danville (Va.) Braves, the Atlanta Braves' advanced rookie-level affiliate, in July 2012. He was promoted to the Braves' low-Class A team in Rome, Ga., in April. He had 66 strikeouts and 24 saves in 42 1/3 innings for the Rome Braves.

He was promoted again to the Class AA Mississippi Braves in August, skipping the high-Class A Lynchburg Hillcats. Simmons pitched 11 innings there and had a 2.45 ERA.

After last season, he was selected and played for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the elite Arizona Fall League, the country's most prestigious offseason league for Major League Baseball prospects. Simmons pitched in nine games for the Scorpions and allowed one earned run in 10 innings for a 0.90 ERA. He recorded 13 strikeouts and was named to the East Division team for league's All-Star Game.

"I mean, I'm not going to sell myself short, but I know a lot of people that have just as good of abilities and talent-level," Simmons said. "It's just mostly about consistency, and I thought I was pretty consistent through the season."

Southeast coach Steve Bieser, an assistant coach who worked with pitchers during Simmons' career at the university, played in the majors and was surprised at how quickly Simmons has progressed.

"I would be lying if I said that I saw he was going to shoot through the minor leagues as quick as he did and get a big-league invite, but we knew he was talented and we knew there was a lot more in there than what we actually saw at Southeast over the course of his career," Bieser said.

"He's definitely hit that point where you can see -- I just had him in the office the other day just to kind of talk about everything he's went through, and that maturity level that he's at now is what has made him so successful. He's very well-grounded and understands where he's at and the opportunity he's got," Bieser added.

Progressing through the minor leagues at the pace Simmons has is not typical for a late-round pick. Bieser noted he spent seven years in the minors before being invited to spring training.

"To be there in really a year and a half and get that invite," Bieser said, "you're definitely on the fast track to getting an opportunity to play in the big leagues."

Simmons said he likes talking to Bieser about his future because he understands it from a player's perspective. Bieser likes to talk to Simmons but only gives advice when asked.

"It kind of got to the point where he was asking questions about big-league camp and what to expect, and the biggest thing that I wanted him to take out of our conversation was, 'You're there for a reason. You're there because of your abilities. Somebody in the organization believes that you deserve to be there. You earned your opportunity to be there; it wasn't given,'" Bieser said.

"They give those opportunities to first-round draft picks, but they don't give those opportunities to mid-20-round draft picks. You've got to earn it. You can't be looking over your shoulder at [Braves All-Star closer Craig] Kimbrel and say, 'I don't belong in the same locker room as him,' because as soon as you start looking around saying 'I don't belong with these guys,' you're not going to fit in and you're going to be right back down in the minor leagues."

Simmons credits Bieser with preparing him for the minors during his three seasons as a Redhawk.

Bieser would have Simmons work on different pitches against less-talented batters he faced rather than throw pitches he already knew would work.

"Some of the things that he had to work on was getting the experience and understanding the art of pitching," Bieser said. "He had a lot of ability and was able to kind of dominate here at Southeast on a lot of occasions, but the consistency wasn't quite there for Shae day in and day out."

Bieser also noted while Simmons was a starting pitcher at Southeast, he was more comfortable as a reliever -- the role he's excelling in now.

Simmons, who arrived in Atlanta on Tuesday for a week of workouts at Turner Field, said he tries not to have an expectation of what happens next. It's unlikely he'll make the Braves' MLB roster out of spring training this season, and he could be sent to the team's minor league camp after a few weeks. But it's no longer a long shot he'll be a big-leaguer one day.

"I just play and let the bosses make the decisions because they know the best way to go about handling business because they've been in it for so long," Simmons said. "I could end up in low-A, I could end up in Triple-A -- either way, I'll still be playing and getting the opportunity. It doesn't matter to me where I'm at."

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