Bradley Zimmer‘s range of potential outcomes for the 2018 season is about as wide as the south shore of Lake Erie.
If you don’t know how to feel about the Tribe’s 2014 first-round selection as we approach opening day, you’re not alone. You’re actually part of a club that probably includes the majority of Tribe fans, myself among that number. See, Zimmer has all the makings of an elite center fielder. What we saw last year was a brief snapshot of both his near-term upside and his worst-case scenario. As we head into the 2018 season, it’s tough to know which version we’re most likely to see as we watch Zimmer help Indians compete for their third consecutive AL Central title.
Five Tools And A Handful Of Question Marks
Zimmer made his MLB debut on May 19th of 2017, and went on to put up a .286/.349/.450 batting line to go with five homers and nine steals in 49 games prior to the All-Star break. Combined with his elite defense in center field, his first performance had him looking like Kevin Kiermaier.
In the second half, however, Zimmer looked a lot more like Tyler Collins at the plate. His .196/.275/.318 line and 33.5% strikeout rate had fans wondering if his highlight-reel catches and gazelle speed were worth putting his slumping bat in the lineup every day. Ultimately, Zimmer’s season was cut short when he suffered a broken hand sliding into first base on September 10th.
Zimmer’s got an all-out type of swing; the kind that results in a lot of hard-hit balls and a heavily-inflated strikeout rate. Players with that type of swing are prone to prolonged hot streaks and slumps. Just ask Aaron Judge, Mark Reynolds or Steven Souza Jr. The good news is that, much like the aforementioned sluggers, he’s at least been able to draw walks at a consistent rate. Notably, the rookie actually improved his walk rate during his otherwise-dreadful second half. That means that even while mired amidst an extended slump, we can feel confident that Zimmer will be able to get on base at a reasonable clip and put his wheels to good use. That’s awesome, considering he owns the third-fastest sprint speed in the majors.
Obviously Zimmer is still developing as a major-leaguer. There’s plenty of time for him to figure out an approach at the plate that works well for him. After all, it took other hard-swinging players like Joey Gallo and Byron Buxton a long time and a few demotions to Triple-A before they finally found sustained offensive success. And because of his defensive prowess, lightning speed on the basepaths, and penchant for drawing walks, he’ll have a long leash to push through his growing pains.
We don’t know yet what the finished product will look like. Zimmer’s upside probably looks something like second-half Byron Buxton or peak Carlos Gomez, while his downside might be more similar to Delino DeShields or even Keon Broxton. It’s probably fair to expect that he’ll flash both sides of that coin at various points throughout the season. Ultimately, it’s very likely that he’ll be at least a league average player this season. And if he takes a step forward, the Tribe will have found another incredibly valuable player to add to their young core group.
Photo courtesy of Erik Drost, via Flickr.