It’s been almost a year since Bradley Zimmer made his MLB debut for the Tribe and early on it looked as if he would be that “next big thing,” something we hadn’t seen since the rise, and relatively short stay, of former All-Star Grady Sizemore.
Sizemore, of course, had his career cut short due to injuries and Zimmer has already seen his rookie season cut short due to a broken hand he sustained in August of last year. The difference between these two players is that despite Zimmer showing early signs that he would be a great, five-tool major league player, he has also already shown signs of learning on the fly in the majors.
Just like Tyler Naquin during his rookie season, major league pitchers have done their homework and made the necessary adjustments to hamper Zimmer’s offensive skills. Also like Naquin, Zimmer has struggled mightily against the fastball and has yet to make the adjustments he needs to catch up.
Since being called up in May 2017, Zimmer had hit .289 going into the first of July. In the 61 games since that date, Zimmer hit .211/.273/.335 until he suffered his season-ending injury in September. These low numbers along with only 26 runs scored and 66 strikeouts at the plate, an average of more than one strikeout per game, are not indicative of the type of player Zimmer is and the player the Indians hoped they were getting. A player with his skill set and speed should be at least average with the bat and above average on the base paths, but Zimmer is not even getting that far.
Going into Friday night’s game against the Yankees, Zimmer has just four stolen bases so far in 2018 while his OBP sits at just .284. Continuing to under-produce offensively will eventually be his downfall. Michael Brantley looks every bit of an MVP-candidate player once again, Naquin has turned it around at the plate so far this season and Lonnie Chisenhall is still in the mix after enjoying an uptick in offensive production last season.
If Zimmer is not careful, he will find himself back in Columbus trying to improve in the minors. If nothing else improves, Zimmer should at least be better at getting on base and using his legs to put fear in opposing teams. Remember Rajai Davis from 2016? You know what they say, speed kills. Since he has struggled from the plate he has seen his name in the bottom third of the batting order 28 out of 29 times and 27 times he has hit either eighth or ninth.
Before the season, Brewers OF Domingo Santana was among a few names the Indians could go after at the trade deadline. At this point, how could anybody disagree? Santana enjoyed a breakout season last year and adding him to a lineup with Brantley and above-average bats in Naquin and Chisenhall could prove to be a key improvement as the Tribe make their way into the postseason. A worst-case scenario would be for Zimmer to get better in AAA, let Chisenhall walk after the season and come back strong in 2019 with an outfield of Brantley, Zimmer and Naquin as your starting options.
It’s not clear when Zimmer will finally come around, but hopefully, it will be sooner rather than later for the sake of the team and its fans. Once upon a time, Zimmer and former Indians prospect OF Clint Frazier in a virtual tie in who would be the better player in the future. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to keep making that comparison for the next decade if Frazier blossoms into an All-Star and Zimmer just never figures it out. Currently hitting .227/.284/.307, hopefully, it’s not too late for him.
Zimmer hit a three-run homer against the Yankees on Friday night.