In calling up prospect Bradley Zimmer to the majors, the Cleveland Indians are putting a lot of pressure on a 24-year-old to perform in front of millions of people every day. That’s not anything new or unique to Zimmer or the Indians, but it’s a brand new experience for every prospect making his major-league debut. So how can we expect Zimmer to handle it?
Zimmer is a big center fielder at 6-foot-5, 220 pounds and he plays his size — which is both a good and a bad thing. Good, in that he uses his length to “gallivant” — as FanGraphs’ scouting report put it — around center field. Most scouting reports have him as a competent-to-good fielder, and a natural fit in center, but not so good that his value is dependent on him being a center fielder. He also has a good amount of pop for the position, though his swing can be a bit long, a downside of his size.
Prior to 2017, Zimmer looked like a bat that would need platooned. Last season with the Triple-A Columbus Clippers, he had a .487 OPS against lefties, a .703 OPS against righties. With the Akron RubberDucks that same year, it was the same story — .623 OPS against lefties, .914 OPS against righties. He had a higher OPS against left-handed pitchers in 2015 (.721 compared to .678), but in a small sample size (39 at-bats to 148 at-bats against right-handed pitching). Another Tyler Naquin, maybe? That’s what it looked like.
Fast-forward to 2017, admittedly another small sample size, and Zimmer is excelling against pitchers on both sides of the rubber. Against left-handed pitchers this season he has a .323/.389/.581 slash, and against righties he’s hitting .284/.364/.516. It could just be small sample size weirdness, sure, but it might also be a conscious change to his swing.
Listen to this March interview with Indians general manager Mike Chernoff. He discusses the changed swing and how it has helped Zimmer get hits off “tough lefties” in the spring:
You can even see in a quick-and-dirty GIF just how much his swing changed. The leg kick was tamed dramatically (to basically nothing), and he’s overall much more in control of his body throughout the swing. He’s more opened up and his bat speed looks much faster. The swing is purely harder, better, faster, stronger.
The long swing that Eric Longenhagen saw in his March scouting report for FanGraphs’ Top 100 prospects appears to be shortened.
The reality of Bradley Zimmer is that he is just going to strikeout. But, you know what, a lot of players do. That’s the way the game is going, and if he can stick around 25 to 30 percent in the majors, I don’t think it’s the end of the world for a strong defensive center fielder with the potential for 20-home run power. I’ll take it.