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Andrelton Simmons looks to build on last year's offense

He impressed teammates, opponents and even the sportswriters who put him among the top 10 in American League most-valuable-player voting.

Still, after all that, after another season of defensive excellence wrapped this time around a summer of offensive splendor, Andrelton Simmons had one more person left to impress.

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"I must have done something right," the Angels shortstop said. "I was telling my wife over the winter, 'See, I told you I do stuff right.' "

Simmons did a lot of stuff right in 2017, his MVP candidacy gaining momentum as the season stretched longer, his name still among the favorites deep into September, even while the Angels faded.

Eventually, the award went to second baseman Jose Altuve, the Houston Astros claiming most everything that mattered in the deciding weeks of last season.

Simmons, though, still ended up eighth in the voting, an impressive showing considering the Angels had a losing record and that teammate Mike Trout annually monopolizes all MVP talk related to the team.

Trout was fourth last season, and finishing on the same list as the center fielder is never a bad place to be.

"I'm not sure exactly how the voting works, but most valuable player?" Simmons said. "That's a pretty special honor. To finish among guys you admire, that's really cool."

Long recognized for his defense, Simmons emerged from his own deep shadow, one slashing cut at a time.

He set career highs for hits, doubles, runs batted in, slugging percentage and on-base-plus-slugging percentage. He walked more than before and stole more bases, becoming a threat when swinging, taking and running.

"He isn't a Trout or anything like that with his offensive numbers," new Angels second baseman Ian Kinsler said. "But if you look at everything he does and does so well, he should be in that conversation."

Simmons was one of the reasons the Angels did the almost incomprehensible. They remained in playoff contention far longer than common sense would have dictated, particularly as an injured Trout missed all of June and half of July.

One of the brightest highlights for Simmons came in late August, on a night when the Angels were honoring Vladimir Guerrero, a man who built his Hall of Fame career on swings that greatly altered games.

Down 6-1 to Houston, the Angels came all the way back on the eventual World Series winners, claiming the lead and ultimately a 7-6 win on a three-run, eighth-inning home run by Simmons.

"There were stretches where I was like, 'OK, put me out there with the game on the line,' " Simmons said. "You always want to be that guy. But there are times where you know you're going to come through. 'Just get me up there and we're winning.' "

In that game, Simmons batted fifth in a lineup that at times genuinely labored, the Angels finishing 22nd in baseball in runs.

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Sunday, in an exhibition game against Colorado at Tempe Diablo Stadium, he batted seventh and, if things follow the plan the Angels envision this season, Simmons might rarely emerge from the bottom third of the order.

Manager Mike Scioscia never has hesitated shuffling his hitters, Simmons, for one, batting in each of the top seven positions at times in 2017.

But with the offseason additions of Kinsler and Zack Cozart, Simmons and his newly celebrated offensive abilities appear destined for a place not normally held for MVP candidates.

"The lineup becomes extremely deep," Kinsler said. "There's really no weak spots, no breaks. Anytime you can turn a lineup over quickly with some runs scoring at the bottom, it's beneficial.

"If we can get Trout as many at-bats as we can, get [Albert] Pujols and Justin [Upton] up there as often as possible, it's very dangerous. We have some good complementary pieces to the middle of that order."

All this and Simmons remains just one rabbit short of being a magician with his glove. He just led baseball in defensive runs saved and defensive WAR, capping the year with his third career Gold Glove.

A genuine softy who wants to one day give back to the kids in his native Curacao — "That's what fills my heart" — Simmons is no less sweet while patrolling shortstop.

Already in drills, Kinsler has seen the potential that exists between the two. The potential for the routine and the dramatic.

"The stuff that he does is practical," Kinsler said. "He's not doing it for show. He's just extremely blessed. He has the ability to do things with his body that most people can't."

It's not surprising that run prevention would come so naturally to Simmons. The idea was ingrained in him in as a kid. See, growing up, he also pitched, his fastball reaching the mid-90s.

After Atlanta took him in the second round of the 2010 draft, the Braves told Simmons they wanted him to keep pitching. The two sides finally agreed that he could play shortstop as well.

"I'm sure everyone still sees me more as a defensive guy," Simmons said. "I think I'm still a defensive guy with something to prove. Not everybody can be Mike Trout, right? But we can all move toward that level."

Simmons moved toward that level last season. And he has the 10-top list to prove it.

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