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Tigers' A.J. Simcox looking to build off solid professional debut in 2015

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Following a strong debut, the second generation shortstop is already showing he is a vital piece to the Tigers minor league system.

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Growing up as a bat boy in the dugout for the University of Tennessee, Detroit Tigers 2015 14th round selection A.J. Simcox couldn't have hoped for a better role model to shape his game than his father, Tennessee assistant coach and former minor league shortstop Larry Simcox.

Larry served as a two-year starting shortstop for Ole Miss, setting an NCAA record by only striking out once in 194 plate appearances. Larry went on to be selected in the ninth round of the 1981 MLB draft by Houston, where he worked his way up to the Double-A level, before a career-ending injury closed the book.

After declining a 32nd round selection by the Colorado Rockies in the 2012 MLB draft, Austin Jay Simcox lived out his dream by securing a starting shortstop role for the Vols, a position he held for his three seasons. Listed as the top player in the state of Tennessee by Perfect Game, Simcox hit .283/338/.317 with 12 walks and a 17.1 strikeout percentage as a freshman.

Jumping onto the Tigers selection board in the 2015 draft, along with Tennessee teammate Christin Stewart, Simcox worked the Tigers minor league system in quick fashion, receiving a promotion to short-season Connecticut after only four games with the Tigers' Gulf Coast League affiliate.

Posting a .270 average in 105 plate appearances with the minor league Tigers, the 21-year-old middle infielder made yet another jump up the ladder to join Low-A West Michigan. With the Whitecaps, Simcox became a staple at shortstop, commiting only one error in 20 games. Along with a Midwest League title, Simcox concluded his Low-A debut hitting .400/.440/.471 with three doubles, one home run and eight RBI in 91 plate appearances.

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Strengths

With an effortless ease in holding down the gap between second and third, Simcox shows quickly that the many years spent observing the many Tennessee standouts to enter and exit the Vols program have paid off for the Knoxville Tennessee native. Long legs and a lanky build allow Simcox to own every bit of his 6'3, 185 pound frame. An added ability to utilize his build, a task not many of the younger players have mastered, allows a notable fluid motion in his fielding, coupled with a shuffle step motion to first with a solid 55-grade arm speed.

Chris Crawford from Baseball Prospectus notes plenty of reason to see continued growth in the young infielder.

"Simcox has a chance to be a solid utility-infielder. He's an above-average runner, and he has the range you look for in a guy who can handle second base and even shortstop with a 55 arm that could handle third."

Vaulting up to the No. 18 slot on MLB.com's 2016 Tigers Top 30 prospects list for 2016, the Simcox brings solid mechanics to the plate, as well as in the field. Although he only saw a total of 49 games in 2015, a smooth one-piece swing, combined with solid arm extension culminated for a .910 OPS and just one error in the field at the Low-A level.

Weaknesses

Although Simcox has quickly proven that he embodies the type of instincts professional organizations clamor for, development in his overall power will need to take center stage moving into the 2016 season.

MLB Pipeline noted their observation of the infielder from what he has produced thus far within the Tigers program.

"He doesn't have much power to speak of, though he does have a frame that could handle good weight. Nothing Simcox did during his debut said he wouldn't be able to hit, with any added strength a benefit to him competing at the higher levels."

Chris Crawford echoed the same concern.

"What keeps him from being a regular is the bat; there's almost zero power potential, and the lack of bat speed means the contact he makes is weak."

After posting an 0.70 ISO with Connecticut, the move to West Michigan didn't produce much of a climb, moving to .071 ISO overall. Simcox posted his lowest strikeout rate of the season with West Michigan, finishing with 12.1 percent concluding 2015.

Overall, as mentioned before, the mechanics are already in place for Simcox. The 2016 season will serve as an opportunity for the former Tennessee Vol to show that he can increase the power in a swing that knows the game; just looking to kick his offense up to the next level.

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Evaluation: Dan Farnsworth, FanGraphs

"Great first year for a 14th round pick. He has an uphill climb to make it as a no power/no walks contact hitter, but he has the defensive skills to play anywhere in the infield reasonably well. Being a groundball/singles hitter kept him off my Tigers' list a few weeks ago, but if he could turn his bat speed into some more true line drives or continue making a ton of contact, he has a chance to contribute to the big league team on some level."

Projected team: Advanced-A Lakeland

Although Simcox saw a limited amount of overall activity between the three programs he moonlighted with, the defense displayed during the 2015 season gave plenty of reason to believe that he will continue to excel with another promotion within the minor league system.

In order to build on his recent success, it goes without saying that the main focal point this season will be on Simcox' ability to boost his overall power and to drive the ball with an already consistent bat just enough to show those inherited instincts have what it takes to continue driving him forward. Time spent with the Flying Tigers should prepare the 21-year-old for the sizable jump to Double-A Erie further down the road.

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Note: We're changing up our prospect coverage a bit this year. Instead of an "official" ranking of the best prospects in the system, we're going to profile those that are most interesting to us (and you too, hopefully). Don't worry, no one has been fired, and daily recaps will still happen during the season. We appreciate any constructive feedback you offer, and we'll take your prospect suggestions into account as well.