The Oakland Athletics tabbed Simmons with the No. 26 overall selection in June, riding on the coattails of a junior campaign in which he posted a 0.96 WHIP and stunning 7.67 K:BB rate for UC Riverside.
Skipping directly to Double-A Midland, Simmons saw action in 13 contests for the Rockhounds, posting a 1.51 WHIP and 17.4 strikeout percentage in 29.2 frames of work. The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder recently sat down with Project Prospect Editor Adam Loberstein to discuss everything from his rapid development to his allegiance to one of his new American League West foes.
Adam Loberstein: Coming out of high school, you were ranked as the 96th-best prospect in Southern California by Baseball America. Enter 2007: you go No. 26 overall in the MLB Draft—not a bad jump, huh?
James Simmons: I didn’t even know I was ranked 96th out of high school [laughs]. I wasn’t really refined, and I’ve always been young for my grade level. I had some growing up to do—that played a big part in it all. I just needed more experience.
AL: After being drafted, the A’s sent you directly to Double-A. What did that mean to you?
JS: They definitely showed that they had confidence in me there. They had high hopes for me. They took a chance by sending me out there—I was able to perform. I enjoyed the challenge.
And while you were pitching for Midland, you made 11 of your 13
appearances working out of the bullpen. What’s that experience been
like for you?
JS: It was a challenge. I’ve always been a starter my whole life. Finding that point where you have to get up, get warm, and turn it on—be ready to go right when you get out there—that’s been a different experience for me. When you’re a starter, you almost have a week to prepare and plan—that’s been my biggest challenge: trying to find that groove where I can get into a rhythm. When you only get one inning out there, it’s tough to do that.
AL: Are the A’s planning on working you out of the bullpen in the future, or is the organization just making sure you don’t throw too many innings this year?
Yeah, I threw a lot in college this year. They didn’t want to throw me
out there as a starter and throw maybe 60 more innings. I’ll be back in
the rotation next year. They’re just taking the safe route.
AL: A lot of things have happened so quickly for you. Here we are at the A’s spring training complex—you’re wearing the A’s uniform. Can you talk about just how far you’ve come in such a limited amount of time?
I’ve come a long ways—probably more than most go in their first year.
Whatever they have planned for me, I’m ready to accept the challenge.
Whether or not it’s back to Double-A or higher up or whatever—how I
perform in spring training—it all depends on that. I’m ready for
whatever they throw at me.
Coming out of UC Riverside, you were described by talent evaluators as
a “safe” pick. What does that mean to you? What’s it feel like to be a
prospect that scouts had that kind of confidence in?
JS: That’s a compliment to me. I’ve always tried to stay consistent throughout my career—commanding my fastball—that’s my strength. So it’s definitely a compliment that they see that.
AL: How’s the rest of your arsenal coming along?
My slider has been coming along real great. I’ve picked up some
velocity on it, and I’m finally getting able to command it. My
changeup—it’s kind of stayed the same—I definitely need to work on
AL: Being born and raised in California, what was your reaction when you were drafted by Oakland?
It was great—definitely. Two of their minor league teams are in
California—at least it’s not clear across the United States. Being able
to have spring training out here—it’s only a five-hour drive for my
parents. And up north—it’s just a short plane ride, so it worked out
AL: Growing up in Southern California—any chance you were an A’s fan?
JS: No, no—Angels fan.
AL: So what’s it like to be on the other side of the rivalry donning the green in gold?
JS: Well, I grew up rooting for the Angels, but I’d much rather wear this uniform than sit in the stands and root for the Angels [laughs].
Adam Loberstein can be reached at email@example.com.