The big league club is not only one in the organization with an anemic lineup: a lot of the system's position players have also struggled thus far. For example, only one Columbus regular (Tyler Holt) has an OPS over .700. And at least until this week you couldn't blame the cold weather.
One exception among the organization's top prospects is Bradley Zimmer, who is hitting .295/.396/568 in his first 12 games at High-A Lynchburg. He has half of his club's home runs (4/8) and is averaging a stolen base every two games.
For those who aren't familiar with Bradley Zimmer (other than seeing his name mentioned by the LGT prospescenti), here's a brief overview of the type of player he is and how he came to be in the Tribe organization.
Zimmer is an athletic outfielder who also happens to be 6'5", a combination you don't usually see. If Zimmer was the everyday center fielder for the Indians right now, he'd be the tallest one in baseball, and among the tallest outfielders in the game. That combination of size (power) and speed is tantalizing, and it's why he's snuck onto several top prospects lists despite very little professional experience. Prior to this season he's had a grand total of 13 Plate Appearances in a full-season league (Lake County).
Zimmer and fellow top prospect Clint Frazier are splitting the playing time in center field in Lynchburg. Usually the Indians will keep a player at a more valuable defensive position as long as there's a chance he'll be able to play that position in the majors, and although he's probably going to move to a corner, now's the time to see if Zimmer can actually handle center.
I don't want to make too much of Zimmer's hot start (just as I don't want to make too much of Carlos Moncrief's slow start) but it is encouraging that he's hitting for home run power against age-appropriate competition already. Zimmer was known a player with a nice line-drive stroke, but it wasn't known whether that stroke would translate into power at the professional level. We'll have to see whether he'll be able to continue to balance power with plate discipline, especially as he faces clubs for the second or third time (the Carolina League has only eight teams)
Given his college experience, I wouldn't be shocked if he ends the 2015 season in Akron. The Indians have several other interesting outfield prospects, so I don't think they're going to push Zimmer in the hopes of him getting to the majors as soon as possible, but at the same time I don't think they'll artificially limit his progression through the organization.
I'll end this post with a perhaps dangerous foray into predictions about the 25-man roster. Projecting prospects, especially prospects with little professional experience into a major-league lineup is a fool's errand. When the Indians signed Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher in 2013, they had glaring holes in center and right field and no prospects that could fill those holes. When Bourn and Swisher's contracts expire (after the 2016 season), the Indians should have several prospects that could fill those holes. James Ramsey, who the Indians acquired in the Justin Masterson trade, is probably going to have the first shot at becoming the next center fielder; he started the 2015 season in AAA, and if the Indians cut bait on Michael Bourn after this season, it will be because Ramsey is ready to make the jump to the majors.
But Ramsey won't be the only option. Tyler Naquin spent all of 2014 in Akron, and should see significant time in Columbus this year. Zimmer, who has a higher upside than Ramsey or Naquin, could be just a year behind Naquin in terms of development. Clint Frazier, who perhaps has the highest upside of any position player in the system, is probably a year behind Zimmer. So there should be a regular stream of outfield prospects that should be reaching the majors between now and 2017, and that's not including Tyler Holt and Carlos Moncrief. You could also throw Zach Walters into that mix if you consider him an outfield option. So although the Indians are obliged to pay both Bourn and Swisher through the 2016 season, they shouldn't feel obliged to keep playing them. The interesting question is not whether the Indians will be able to replace that pair in 2016 or 2017, but which prospects will replace them. I think Zimmer will be one of those replacements, whether it be in center or right.