Cleveland's top prospect set for big league debut after impressing at Triple-A
By Mike Rosenbaum
The Cleveland Indians announced on Tuesday that they are promoting top prospect Bradley Zimmer to the Major Leagues to make his debut against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Zimmer will take the roster spot of Abraham Almonte, who, after suffering a strained right biceps on Monday, has been placed on the 10-day disabled list, where he joins outfielders Austin Jackson and Brandon Guyer. As a result, Zimmer will start in center field on Tuesday, batting ninth.
Ranked 19th on MLBPipeline.com's Top 100 Prospects list, Zimmer gets the call after an impressive start to his season at Triple-A Columbus. In 33 games, he batted .294/.371/.532 with five home runs, 11 doubles, two triples, 14 RBIs, nine stolen bases and 22 runs scored.
Zimmer had been especially hot, batting .419/.514/.710 with 13 hits, two home runs, three doubles, six walks and three steals in eight games prior to his promotion. The torrid stretch landed the 24-year-old a spot on MLBPipeline.com's most recent Prospect Team of the Week.
The Indians selected Zimmer with the 21st overall pick in the 2014 Draft out of the University of San Francisco just two years after the Royals took his older brother Kyle with the No. 4 overall pick. He made an immediate impact and reached full-season ball in his pro debut and then continued to make strides in his first full season, earning All-Star honors in the Class A Advanced Carolina League and a spot in the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Games before advancing to Double-A Akron.
While Zimmer struggled in his first taste of the Eastern League, hitting just .219/.313/.374 in 49 games, it was revealed after the season that he'd been playing with a hairline fracture in his right foot, sapping much of his power and speed.
Zimmer returned to Akron to begin 2016 and quickly laid all concern regarding a lingering injury to rest by posting a .253/.371/.471 line with 14 homers and 33 steals en route to a Triple-A promotion. But for a second straight year, Zimmer struggled to translate his game at the higher level.
As it would turn out, the left-handed-hitting outfielder had spent much of the season working with the Indians' staff to revamp his swing. Specifically, shortening the length of his bat path through the zone and becoming more open in his stance.
Zimmer's progress in rebuilding his swing was on full display during his standout campaign in the prestigious Arizona Fall League, and he then built on that success in Spring Training, hitting .358 with nine extra-base hits, 14 RBIs and a 1.084 OPS in 23 Cactus League games.
Zimmer's impressive combination of power and speed -- each grading as a 55 on the 20-80 scouting scale -- has long been his calling card, with scouts pegging him as a potential 20-20 candidate in the big leagues at the time he was drafted. In his first two full seasons (2015-16), he totaled 16 HR/44 SB and 15/38, respectively. For his career, Zimmer has swiped 103 bases in 131 attempts (78.6 percent) in 338 games.
Zimmer's speed also makes him a plus defender in center field, where -- thanks to an athletic 6-foot-5, 220-pound frame -- he covers large swaths of space with long, graceful strides. His above-average arm strength is another strength, and it gives him the ability to play either right of left field.
Zimmer's detractors point to his perennially high strikeout rates and low batting averages as reason for concern regarding his potential output in the big leagues -- which is fair. He fanned a career-high 30.7 percent of the time while batting .250 in 2016, and he's a .270 hitter with a 25.9-percent clip in his career.
However, Zimmer always has compensated for his lack of consistent contact with high walk and an on-base rates, maintaining a consistent approach as he's climbed in the Minor League ladder. In 1,460 career plate appearances, he's posted an 11.4 percent walk rate with a .372 on-base percentage.
Zimmer has also improved against left-handed pitching, batting .323 with four extra-base hits in 37 plate appearances this season after hitting just .179 against southpaws in 2016.
Though injuries have played a part in the timing of Zimmer's promotion, the Indians believe that the 24-year-old is more than ready to handle any and all challenges the Major Leagues present. He's likely to experience some growing pains early in his big league career, but Zimmer has the across-the-board tools and baseball acumen needed to make adjustments and enjoy success at the highest level.
Mike Rosenbaum is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @GoldenSombrero. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.