Cleveland Indians 2017 top prospects: No. 1, Bradley Zimmer

Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports /

After coming in at number two a year ago, outfielder Bradley Zimmer is now our number 1 prospect on our Cleveland Indians 2017 top prospect countdown.

Who is Bradley Zimmer?

After finishing second on our list last season, Bradley Zimmer moves up a spot to claim the honor of our top prospect in the Cleveland Indians system for 2017. The California native was the Tribe’s first round pick in 2014 and has been a top prospect in baseball ever since.

The 24-year-old outfielder bats from the left-side. He stands 6-foot-5 and weighs about 200 pounds.

After beginning the 2016 season at Double-A Akron, where he was an Eastern League All-Star, Zimmer got a second half promotion to Triple-A Columbus before finishing 2016 off in the Arizona Fall League, where he was named a top prospect. He was even invited to big league camp this spring and shined before recently being reassigned to Columbus.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Zimmer was a surprise pick by the Cleveland Indians in 2014 as most everyone thought the outfielder from the University of San Francisco would have been long gone before the Tribe picked at No. 21 overall. Along with Will Benson, he’s one of the best athletes in the Tribe system as well. He’s a borderline five-tool prospect who has very few holes in his game and does a bit of everything.

Zimmer’s one tool that could be questioned is his hit-tool. He has hit just .268 over his three minor league seasons with the Indians, including just .250 in 2016. However, he has posted outstanding on-base percentages, including a career mark of .372 and .365 this past season.

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He does a very good job of drawing walks but has had issues with strikeouts, which came to a head this summer at Columbus when he struck out a whopping 37.2 percent of the time.

Zimmer has shown he has one of the best power-speed combinations in all the minor leagues the last few years. His 31 home runs the last two seasons are the third most among current Tribe minor leaguers (Bobby Bradley 56 and Nellie Rodriguez 47) while his 82 stolen bases are the second most (Greg Allen 91).

Defensively, Zimmer has handled himself well enough in center field. He isn’t the best at the spot (that would be Greg Allen), but he uses his long strides and speed to cover enough ground to handle the position at the big league level. However, he could also move to right field if needed due to his plus arm, which Baseball America rated the best in the system.

Where does he go from here?

Along with Yandy Diaz, Zimmer enters 2017 as one of the most major league ready of all the Tribe prospects who have yet to appear in a big league game. He is not on the Tribe’s 40-man roster but, like Diaz, that is more just a matter of him not being Rule 5 Draft eligible this winter. He returns to Triple-A Columbus where he’ll open as the everyday center fielder and possibly leadoff hitter.

Zimmer lost some clout in the prospect community this year with his struggles in Triple-A. The strikeout rate is a legit concern and one that nearly bumped him down our list as well. However, even in a small sample size, he looked very good in the Arizona Fall League this fall and that carried over to the spring where he hit .358 with a 1.084 OPS in 53 at-bats.

With Clint Frazier no longer in the system, Zimmer was the number one prospect in the system before his spring showing, but the new approach at the plate and hot bat only justified our ranking. He’s not without fault as he could end up in right field and the hit tool may not be quite as advertised but he’ll walk, hit for some power, and steal bases.

He could be a 20/30 player (20 home runs, 30 stolen bases), and his ceiling remains a better defensive version Michael Brantley (aka, an MVP candidate) while his floor would appear that of at worst a big league platoon outfielder, like a Lonnie Chisenhall.

It would be the shock of the year if Zimmer doesn’t see time in Cleveland in 2017. The only question is how soon does he get called up. The Tribe could play it safe and wait until the end of May/early June like they have with the likes of Carlos Santana and Francisco Lindor, but given the uncertainty in the outfield, he could force their hand even sooner.

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One thing seems certain, we will have another new number one next year as Zimmer will reach his rookie limit in 2017.