Two years ago, fans in Cleveland were witnessing the long-awaited major league debut of future All-Star shortstop Francisco Lindor. At that time, Bradley Zimmer was still in High-A Lynchburg and with the graduation of Lindor, the former first round pick from La Jolla, California was dubbed the new organizational top prospect. Cut to this past Tuesday where the now-24-year-old Zimmer received the call every minor leaguer and wannabe baseball player dreams of. Now that he's in Cleveland, there's questions of whether he will stay there long-term and what kind of initial impact he will have.
Here is my take on Zimmer's promotion as well as other notes from this week in the Indians farm system...
1. Indians call up Bradley Zimmer.
I'll be perfectly honest, I was not expecting to see Bradley Zimmer called up, nor was I expecting to even see him even be considered among the candidates to be called up to fill an outfield spot. My money was on Richie Shaffer, who had previous big league experience and has been the Clippers' top power hitter so far this season. Plus, there was the prevailing thought that the Tribe would give Zimmer the Francisco Lindor treatment and wait until June to retain that extra year of control. But desperate times call for desperate measures and with three outfielders currently on the disabled list, the timing probably won't be more ideal than it is now to give the organization's number one prospect his first major league look.
The talent and upside of Zimmer is undeniable. He has exceptional ability at the plate, in the field and on the bases. In 33 games for Columbus, the 24-year-old batted .294 with five homers, 11 doubles, two triples and 14 RBI's while stealing nine bases in 12 attempts. He had been especially locked in over his last 10 games before being called up batting .368 with two homers, four doubles, six RBI's and four stolen bases in five attempts while posting an OPS of 1.121. The one thing that has been an issue for him, though, has been the strikeouts as he has 43 in 126 at-bats while averaging 3.1 punchouts for each walk this year.
So the big question is how long will this major league stint last for Zimmer? To me, it depends on how when Austin Jackson will return, as he will soon begin a minor league rehab assignment, and then how much playing time he gets when he does come back. They could work as a platoon with Zimmer being left-handed, although he has actually fared better against southpaws this year. Or it could simply come down to how much success the California native has. And to me, that comes down to how much the strikeouts will impact his game, because he's going to swing and miss...and probably quite a bit. He already has his first MLB hit and home run through two games, but he's also struck out four times in seven at-bats. He can provide a jolt for this team, but also don't be surprised if he gets sent back down at some point.
2. Mitch Brown's commanding presence.
When you go through Mitch Brown's career, usually his name and the word "command" aren't used in the same sentence, unless preceded by the words "lack of". Prior to 2017, the right-hander had averaged nearly five walks per nine innings as he had issued 259 free passes versus 448 strikeouts in 474 innings. This season, however, while he had struggled with his command again initially walking eight and only fanning five in his first 5.1 innings while posting a 5.06 ERA. In his last four outings, however, Brown has not walked a batter and struck out 11 in 8.2 innings.
Brown attributes his recent success to a change in mechanics and his routines between appearances, plus just an overall increase in confidence on the mound. The pressure for him to develop and put up good numbers has been high since he was drafted in the second round of the 2012 draft. That was when he was a starter, though, as his move to the bullpen didn't take place until midway through last season in Lynchburg. So far as a reliever between last year and this one, Brown has gone 2-1 with a 3.03 ERA with 26 walks and 56 strikeouts in 38.2 innings of work as he appears to have finally found a role where he's comfortable.
3. Can Yandy Diaz figure it out in Cleveland?
After Yandy Diaz's second unproductive stint in the major leagues, skepticism is starting to rise about his major league potential. Now, of course, 18 games and 64 at-bats isn't a lot to go on to draw any significant conclusions, but it doesn't change the fact that he batted .203 with only one extra-base hit and three RBI's. Additionally, the walks and on-base percentage, which has been his bread and butter all throughout his minor league career, were pretty much a non-factor in the majors as he only drew six free passes and posted a .268 OBP in those 18 games.
Anyone who's followed my writing or commentary on podcasts and social media would know I've been driving the Yandy Diaz hype train since 2015 when I first got to watch him play in Akron. Now I still believe he can be a productive major leaguer, but there are some flaws in his game that have been exposed that need to be corrected, such as an alteration of his swing plane to hit the ball in the air more. Since his breakout 2015 season, the Cuban native's groundout-to-air-out ratio has spiked from 1.64 to 3.25. In his limited major league time, that number sits at an even five.
One thing that could provide optimism for his future, however, is his line-drive percentage both in Triple-A and in Cleveland are at career-high percentages of 24.4% and 25%, respectively. His Triple-A numbers are still impressive at .357/.471/.536 in 16 games, so hopefully he can apply his major league experience and find his comfort zone again.
4. Gazing into Tanner Tully's future.
Tanner Tully is in an interesting position as he begins his development as a prospect as most of his time as a professional has been spent as a reliever making 14 of his 21 appearances out of the bullpen and has done very well as evidenced by his 1.36 career ERA. What's interesting, though, is he actually viewed as a starter by the organization and will be developed as such. However, the problem is he was drafted in the same class as Shane Bieber, Aaron Civale, Justin Garza and other starters, so he's had a crowded rotation to deal with at both stops of his career thus far.
Right now, the left-hander technically working in the bullpen for Lake County, but according to Captains manager Larry Day, he's piggy-backing off of starter Juan Hillman, so that way he can still log his innings and stay stretched out for if and when a rotation spot opens up. He's averaging over four innings per appearance, including one start where he pitched six innings of one-run ball to earn his first win of the year. I'm very intrigued to see how Tully develops and if he does get an opportunity to start because he has dominated in both roles up to this point.
Twitter Question of the Week
"Tribe SP has been shaky - any prospects who could make an impact this year?"
Alex, this is starting to become a concern for me as well. Obviously it's still early in the season and plenty of time for guys like Danny Salazar and Trevor Bauer to turn things around, but with Corey Kluber already on the disabled list and Josh Tomlin with his shortcomings and inconsistencies, something might have to be done at some point if this continues.
As far as who could come up from the farm system and help the rotation, I still like Mike Clevinger's chances to be an effective major league starter. The stuff is there. It's just a matter of getting his command sharpened up. Also, while there are options in Triple-A, they have all struggled so far this year. Between Adam Plutko, Shawn Morimando and last year's playoff hero Ryan Merritt, the lowest ERA between them is 4.40. I would imagine Merritt would be next on the list for a call-up, but the problem is his upside isn't much higher than that of a Josh Tomlin, number five starter type. The real arms are in Double-A and below, so they're still a little ways away. The future is bright, though.
- Julian Merryweather (SP, Akron): The impressive start to Merryweather's season continues as he fanned a career-high 10 batters in his last start. His strikeout-per-nine-inning ratio also sits at 9.6, up from his 7.9 mark from a season ago.
- Alexis Pantoja (INF, Lake County): It took a little while, but Pantoja is finally starting to put some good swings on the ball as he is batting .317 with four of his five RBI's this season over his last 10 games.
- Mike Papi (RF, Akron): Since April 23rd where he was batting .229, Papi has been locked in hitting .373 with two homers and six RBI's over his last 18 games. He has also posted a .471 on-base percentage in span as he has drawn 10 walks versus 14 strikeouts.
- Connor Marabell (OF, Columbus): With Zimmer going up to Cleveland, the Clippers had a spot to fill in their outfield and, likely because Greg Allen is currently on the disabled list in Akron, Marabell was the one to get the call from Lynchburg. So far in two games, he is 2-for-8 with two singles, a walk and three strikeouts.
- Ryder Ryan (RP, Lake County): Ryan came out of the draft as a raw and inexperienced pitching talent, but so far all he's done as a pro is dominate as his ERA is now down to 1.17 over 10 appearances so far this season while posting a miniscule 0.78 WHIP with 16 strikeouts over 15.1 innings.
- Brady Aiken (SP, Lake County): It's been slow going for Brady Aiken so far in 2017 as walks continue to be his Achilles' heel with 28 versus only 20 strikeouts in 34 innings. He did manage to get his first win this week, however, pitching five innings of two-run ball putting him at 1-6 on the year.
- Kieran Lovegrove (RP, Lynchburg): As a starter, Kieran Lovegrove was had his inconsistencies posting a career posting a 4-19 record with a 5.40 ERA in 41 career starts between 2012 and 2015. His move to the bullpen has reaped better results, though, particularly this season as he has gone 1-1 with a 3.14 ERA in 11 appearances.
Jeremy Lucas is finally back on an Indians minor league roster as the 26-year-old was activated in Columbus last week. So far, Lucas has played in only five games and is batting just .071 (1-for-14) with an RBI, but a small sample size and his late start to the year are most certainly at play there. Last season, the former 12th round pick hit .252 in 99 games between Akron and Columbus while bashing a career-high 12 homers with 48 RBI's. For a while Lucas was considered among the Indians' top catching prospects as well as one of their better-hitting backstops, at least until a guy named Francisco Mejia showed up. Playing time will likely be spread pretty thin for Lucas in Columbus right now with the veterans Erik Kratz and Adam Moore to contend with, but we'll see what he can do with whatever opportunities he's given.