Prospect Impact takes a look at the Indians' prospects who are on the verge of making the jump to the major league level in the upcoming season and breaks down their game, where they are in their development and when fans can potentially expect to see them in Cleveland.
The Cleveland Indians have had an impressive run of player development the last few seasons as their farm system has brought forth back-to-back Rookie of the Year finalists in Francisco Lindor and Tyler Naquin as well as perennial All-Star second baseman Jason Kipnis, lights-out closer Cody Allen and one of 2016's most productive all-around hitters, Jose Ramirez. It's clear that a change in philosophy that puts an emphasis on player development has taken root and already reaped substantial benefits within the organization. The question is will it continue, and who are the next prospects in line to make a memorable impact in Cleveland?
While it's true the Indians parted with a significant package of players in order to net superstar reliever Andrew Miller, including former first-round pick Clint Frazier and top pitching prospect Justus Sheffield, the talent pool making its way to the upper levels of the minor league system is still deep and offers plenty of upside. Starting both at the top of the system and the prospect rankings you'll find outfielder Bradley Zimmer. Another former first-round pick, Zimmer's potential is undeniable. Whether it's his speed, power or defensive ability, the 24-year-old has the kind of tools to be a cornerstone player with the Tribe, similar to Kipnis or Lindor.
Major League Ready
As said previously, Zimmer's wide variety of tools and talents are what made him an intriguing player as an amateur and are what keep him among the top-rated prospects in all of baseball as he came into 2016 ranked 23rd by Baseball Prospectus, 26th by MLB.oom and 31st by Baseball America. Best case scenario, he becomes one of the better all-around players in baseball racking up impressive totals in home runs, extra base hits, RBI's, stolen bases and runs scored while drawing a healthy number of walks. Plus, he would provide sound defense at all three outfield positions.
While he may not profile as a typical speed demon, Zimmer has made quite an impression on the base paths stealing 94 total bases in 119 attempts in three minor league seasons averaging over 30 per season. While his aggressiveness on the base paths may get the better of him at times, there's no question that he can run at any level. Add in his career .372 on-base percentage and ability to drive the ball, he can fit in just about anywhere in a lineup.
Defensively, Zimmer has been groomed and developed primarily as a center fielder, but he has also seen time in right field. His range may be his best asset in the outfield as the long strides that his 6'4" frame affords him allow him to cover a lot of ground. His arm is also above average, which is why he could move to a corner spot at some point if needed. He is being viewed as the future in center field in Cleveland for the time being, but his athleticism and versatility can certainly keep those other options open.
A Work In Progress
Zimmer's potential is definitely sky high, however, his actual track record of professional play has had its ups and downs, particularly during last season where his play between Double-A Akron and Triple-A Columbus brought forth mixed results. In 130 games played between the two levels, Zimmer batted ,250 with 15 homers and 62 RBI's. Of course, batting average is not of major concern, especially if said player is capable of hitting for power and getting on base, as Zimmer's career .790 OPS shows.
What may raise some red flags, though, is his elevated strikeout rate, which jumped from 131 last season to 171 in just three more games played. Over-aggressiveness has been cited as a potential cause as well as issues with his hitting mechanics. One thing's for certain, though, for someone for whom speed is a primary tool to make an impact, a high strikeout rate can definitely raise a collective eyebrow.
There is also reason for optimism in this area of his game, however, as Zimmer's walk rate went up right along with his strikeouts as he drew 77 free passes this year versus 55 a year ago, allowing him to maintain an impressive .366 on-base percentage. This also explains why he was still able to swipe 38 bases this year, just six off his career mark. Hopefully he's able to harness that patience a bit more in order to cut down on the strikeouts.
The California native also struggled mightily against lefties this year batting just .179 against them in Akron and Columbus. Of course, that would be a concern if those struggles continue with the Tribe's already left-handed-heavy lineup, however, they could also be viewed as an aberration as he has hit southpaws better in each of the previous two seasons and produced more balanced splits.
Estimated Time of Arrival
Zimmer's timetable right now is a bit sketchy. Barring injury, he is highly likely to make his major league debut in 2017. The question is when? I would anticipate him getting a long look in spring training, although the chances of him breaking camp with the Tribe are slim. If that ends up being the case, then service time could come into play like it did with Francisco Lindor in 2015 and thus he would not get the call until June at the earliest.
The most likely scenario at this point is a September call-up to give him as much additional development time as possible, however if he excels in spring training and the first couple months of the season in Triple-A, I wouldn't be surprised to see a midseason call-up between June and August.