May 17, 2017
The Situation: The Indians outfield is in dire need of help due to the injuries to Abraham Almonte, Brandon Guyer and Austin Jackson. Also, while Michael Brantley has hit fairly well so far, his playing time is being managed cautiously given his recent injury history. They have addressed this situation by calling up Zimmer, one of their top prospects (No. 3 in our 2017 Indians organizational ranking).
Background: Cleveland selected Zimmer 21st overall in the 2014 amateur draft, and the start of his first full pro season could not have gone much better. After he slashed .308/.403/.493, hit 10 homers, and stole 32 bases in 335 plate appearances for High-A Lynchburg, he was named to the Carolina League All-Star team and participated in the Futures Game. However, he struggled with Double-A Akron in the second half of the season, in large part because he tried to play with a hairline fracture in his right foot. The 24-year-old’s stock fell in 2016 after striking out 115 times in just 407 plate appearances with Akron, and 56 times in 150 plate appearances for Triple-A Columbus. Zimmer got off to a better start with Columbus before his promotion, as he slashed .294/.371/.532, along with five homers, nine stolen bases, and “only” 43 strikeouts through 144 plate appearances.
Let's hear from him, thanks to T.J. Zuppe of The Athletic Cleveland:
Scouting Report: There is absolutely no concern about whether he has the tools to thrive at the big-league level. They are all above average or better with a particularly intriguing power-speed combination. The primary concern is the high strikeout rate in the upper minors, especially against lefties. His left-handed swing is extremely long, and to be fair, he is 6’4.’’ Fortunately, despite these swing-and-miss problems, he has maintained a patient approach and consistently gets on base. His ability to track the ball in centerfield has improved and is certainly athletic enough to stick at the position long term. With 20-20 potential, Zimmer has the chance to develop into one of the better outfielders in the league. His floor is likely a platoon role.
Immediate Big-League Future: Due to the previously mentioned injuries, he should at least receive consistent playing time against righties. There is no reason he should be sent back to the minors or lose regular time if he experiences instant success (see Bellinger, Cody). A realistic scenario, though, is an eventual platoon with Almonte, Guyer, and/or Jackson when they return to health. —Erich Rothmann
Fantasy Impact: The 24-year-old’s dynamic power and speed combination, a skill set that’s become increasingly rare in the current landscape, has solidified the former first-round pick’s status as one of the most enticing fantasy prospects game in recent years. Zimmer’s propensity to strike out at a rather alarming rate (30 percent of his 701 plate appearances over the past two seasons) is the lone bugaboo in his profile. It’s a glaring weakness that amplifies the short (and long-term) playing time risks, but if he can make enough adjustments to survive against major-league pitching, he’s a virtual lock to provide immediate fantasy value in the power and speed departments. Tabbed the 42nd-best fantasy prospect in Bret Sayre and Ben Carsley’s pre-season Top 101 list, Zimmer possesses immense upside. He could develop into a four-category contributor in the near future. However, the omnipresent contact issues also give Zimmer a much lower floor than his raw talent would suggest.
A slew of injuries have hit the Indians crowded outfield hard in recent weeks. Guyer, Almonte, Jackson and Tyler Naquin are all on the disabled list, which means that Zimmer has an opportunity to establish himself as an everyday option. He’s going to have to hit right out of the gate in order to justify a roster spot, and keep getting at-bats once those established those veterans return healthy. He certainly has the talent to force the issue, as evidenced by his performance at Columbus this season, Zimmer is a worthwhile investment in deeper mixed leagues and merits a speculative pickup in shallow mixers. There’s major bust potential, but if he can solve his strikeout issues, he’s going to be an absolute monster. —George Bissell