CLEVELAND – Excitement has been building ever since Bradley Zimmer registered one home run and five RBIs in his first game of 2017.
Less than three months later, the number one prospect in the Indians minor league system will be making his major league debut.
The Tribe purchased the contract of Zimmer from Triple-A and penciled him in the nine-hole playing center field on Tuesday against the Tampa Bay Rays at Progressive Field.
In a slew of corresponding moves, the club recalled Shawn Armstrong from Columbus, placed Abraham Almonte (right biceps strain) on the 10-day disabled list, optioned Yandy Diaz to the Clippers and designated Carlos Frias for assignment.
With a depleted outfield unit, it was only a matter of time before Zimmer and his .294/.371/.532 slash line made it to Cleveland.
“I was sitting in the ice bath with one of our teammates after the game. Our trainer came in and said, ‘Tremie wants to see you,’ who is our manager in Columbus. It was like 11:30 at night so I was like, ‘OK.’ So I got out my sliders, went in there soaking wet and gave him a hand shake and he said, ‘Congratulations. You’re going to the big leagues,” said Zimmer. “It’s honestly, that moment is hard to put into words, how that moment was. The feeling is something that I’ll never forget. I’m still to this moment enjoying it. It’s still sinking in.”
Zimmer was selected 21st overall out of the University of San Francisco in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft before being named an MiLB.com Organization All-Star in 2015 and 2016. The Indians' willingness to trade Clint Frazier rather than Zimmer was a testament to the unbounded potential he possesses.
“You want the guy to be in a really good spot,” manager Terry Francona said of the timing of the promotion. “This is as good of a place as he’s been in. With the timing fitting, we thought it made sense.”
Since the Cactus League, Zimmer has established a rapport with Francona and the coaching staff by making a strong first impression right out of the gate. The 24-year-old showcased his power potential by notching extra-base hits in 18 of his 37 base knocks (48.6%) at Triple-A Columbus. Couple that power with 82 stolen bases over the last two seasons and Zimmer could be a five-tool player for a team chock full of young talent.
“It was fun to get to know him a little bit, to watch him play and he played great,” said Francona of Zimmer’s spring performance. “Your first day in the major leagues, there’s nothing like it.”
This long-awaited opportunity comes in light of Almonte’s re-aggravated right biceps strain, an injury that originated on Wednesday in Toronto.
“Abe had his MRI today,” Francona said. “We know enough that he’s a DL. The doctors haven’t talked to him yet so we don’t really even have a timeframe – things like that – other than he’s a DL and he needs to rest for a time period. We don’t actually know what that is yet.”
While Almonte is down, Zimmer figures to get plenty of reps in the outfield instead of Diaz, a work in progress on the defensive side of the ball that has yet to put it together at the plate this season with averages of .203/.268/.219 and only one extra-base hit in 64 at-bats (18 games).
“He didn’t need to sit the bench,” said Francona. “So we tried to explain to him, hey, all the things we talk to you about, we keep ramming it down his—throat, defense, defense, defense—we’re not mad at him. We just want him to know how much of a premium that we put on that side of the field.”
The revolving door between Triple-A and the big leagues also reopens for Armstrong to aid a seven-man bullpen. The right-hander will be making his third stint with the Tribe after logging five relief appearances over the course of April and May.
For now, the spotlight will be directed on Zimmer as his dream becomes a reality.
“I called my mom and my dad right away. And then my brother following that. Obviously they were beside themselves with excitement,” Zimmer said. “[Francona] basically said congratulations, enjoy the moment and just kind of took some weight off my shoulders and said, ‘Be Bradley Zimmer and do what you can tonight, enjoy it.”