From bat boy to batter up

From bat boy to batter up

Being blessed with the athletic ability to allow a baseball player to live out a dream isn't commonplace. For one prep standout, that dream is coming true with a career at Tennessee on the horizon. Sign in on subscribe now to see what this prospect had to say to InsideTennessee.com.

No high school baseball prospects have the relationship with new Tennessee baseball coach Dave Serrano that A.J. Simcox does.

In fact, A.J. has been around Serrano longer than Serrano's oldest son, 15-year-old Kyle.

When Serrano was an assistant on the 1995 Tennessee team that earned a trip to the College World Series behind player of the year Todd Helton, Simcox was there. He was an infant at the time, but he was in fact in Omaha.

A.J.'s father Larry Simcox worked alongside Serrano under head coach Rod Delmonico back then and the friendship has remained intact.

Thus, when Serrano became the 24th head coach of the Tennessee program back on June 15, the debating about which Southeastern Conference school that A.J. would commit to was all but over.

"It's been my dream," Simcox told InsideTennessee.com. "My dad coached at UT when I was younger. I've always wanted to go there. I grew up thinking I was going to be a Tennessee Vol playing for my dad. It didn't work out that way, but I'm still going to be a Tennessee Vol."

The 6-foot-3, 170-pound shortstop from prep powerhouse Farragut High School has had orange in his heart for some time. He served as a bat boy for the last two Vol trips to the CWS (2001, 2005).

"It's awesome going as a bat-boy, but I couldn't imagine how awesome it would be as a player," Simcox said. "I hope to achieve that. I think Serrano has it on the right path. He's had success at other places. I think he'll have success here.

"It was unbelievable (in Omaha). The last time was a little short. There's nothing like it in college baseball. It's great exposure for the sport. I wish they would air it on ESPN more but can't really do anything about it."

That desire to get Tennessee back on the winning track coupled with his ties to Serrano made it much simpler for the prospect to pass on scholarship offers from two-time defending national champion South Carolina, Georgia and Vanderbilt.

"It's really difficult, but I have a great relationship with coach Serrano," said Simcox, who took an unofficial visit to UT two weeks ago. "I've known him all my life. He coached at UT with my dad for a couple years. We've stayed in touch throughout the years. Him and my dad have a great friendship. I know that he's a really trustworthy person and he's going to want the best for me and do what's best for me.

"I just felt more at home at Tennessee. It's closer. My parents can come see me every day. So, that's always a plus."

Simcox, who just turned 17 on June 22, certainly appears to have his best baseball ahead of him.

Farragut coach Matt Buckner thinks highly of the reigning District 4-AAA most valuable player.

"He has a frame that's loose, long, rangy," said Buckner, who has led the Admirals the last two years. "He fields the ball extremely easy, extremely fluid, fundamentally sound. He has a chance to have a big-time arm.

"His upside is as a big-time shortstop. I think he can stay there and have a pretty good career in the SEC."

The word "upside" is used a lot in evaluating amateur talent and Simcox comes equipped with plenty of it. He injured his back at the end of his sophomore season, which hindered his development for a bit. Now that he's back to 100 percent, he's ready to start taking the next step physically.

"The doctor told me I grew too fast and was over-using it hitting too much and working out too much," said Simcox, who was in a back brace for eight weeks.

"I know that's the thing holding me back from taking another big step in baseball — getting stronger. If I can do that and put some weight on me, I'll improve so much more."

Simcox ran the 60-yard dash in 6.95 seconds at the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association Showcase tryout earlier this summer. That speed paired with his ability to make consistent contact make him an ideal candidate to hit at the the top of the order.

"Offensively, he's not a kid who's going to hit with a lot of power right now, but he's a very, very good hitter," Buckner said. "He had 70 hits — the most of anybody in the State of Tennessee — and he had a 28-game hitting streak at one point during our season. He barrels the ball up. He's a kid that stays inside the ball very, very well. His stroke is very fundamentally sound."

Should his name be called by a Major League Baseball team in the draft next June, it may take a couple trips to the bank to get Simcox to pass on becoming a Volunteer.

"My parents want me to go to school, and it would have to be a heck of a lot of money for me not to go to school," said Simcox, whose father was an All-SEC shortstop at Ole Miss. "My body — three years at school would help me mature a lot. I could fill out my body and an education is always a great thing to fall back on."

Farragut owns the last four TSSAA Class AAA state championships. Simcox is on the hunt for his fourth ring in as many years of high school in 2012. He started at third base in the 2010 title game and at shortstop this past May.

He has already registered a 25 on the ACT and is doing work in the classroom, carrying a 3.6 GPA. He is planning on majoring in "something involving business."

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