Cleveland Indians: Make-or-break season ahead for Bradley Zimmer

(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
(Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images) /

Years removed from his rookie season, Bradley Zimmer‘s potential remains dormant under the surface. Can he finally put it all together in 2020?

One of the key remaining needs for the Cleveland Indians this offseason is a left-handed outfield bat. Tyler Naquin will miss a large portion of the season due to injury. Jake Bauers is not an especially gifted defensive outfielder, and his bat left plenty to be desired in his debut season with the Tribe. Greg Allen is a switch-hitter, but by now the book on him is that of a fourth outfielder.

Cleveland’s remaining established outfield options are Oscar Mercado, Jordan Luplow, Delino DeShields, and Franmil Reyes–all righties. Suffice it to say choosing to head into 2020 with Reyes as an everyday outfielder would be an unwise move on the part of the Indians’ top brass.

The whole point of trading for a player like Reyes in the first place is that he’s a tailor-made designated hitter. If he has to filter into the outfield every now and then, fine, but it should by no means be Plan A.

Luplow wasn’t given many chances to face right-handed pitching in 2019, so the jury is still out on him as far as whether he can be an effective everyday player. For now, it appears his best role with the Indians going forward is that of a platoon bat against southpaws (with potential for more upside if he can also be productive against righties).

More from Cleveland Guardians News

The only healthy Tribe outfielder who both held and succeeded in an everyday role in 2019 is Mercado. Only time will tell to what extent this roster void is addressed by the front office, but it’s difficult to imagine the Indians won’t acquire at least one outfielder this offseason.

Assuming that acquisition isn’t a proven thumper like Nicholas Castellanos or Marcell Ozuna, the door remains open for Bradley Zimmer to stake his claim to a role in the starting lineup.

Zimmer could be the in-house answer to Cleveland’s lack of a dependable left-handed outfielder–if he can finally come through on the potential he’s always been believed to have. In many ways, 2020 represents Zimmer’s best last chance to do so.

After posting a pedestrian .241/.307/.385 slash line and 79 wRC+ in 332 plate appearances as a rookie in 2017, Zimmer turned into a downright liability at the plate during his brief and injury-shortened 2018 campaign. The youngster struck out at a ludicrous 38.6% clip in 114 plate appearances in his sophomore year before ultimately undergoing a shoulder surgery that cost him the rest of that season and just about all of 2019.

The first step in Zimmer’s road to redemption is simply to get himself healthy enough to stay on the field. The second is to hit well enough that the Indians have to keep him on the field. Given his track record in an admittedly small sample, that second task looks like no small hurdle.

Zimmer is already 27 years old, and the Indians are rapidly nearing the crossroads at which they need to know once and for all what they have in him, and whether or not he can realistically be factored into their plans down the road.

If there’s a glass-half-full way to view the challenge that lies before Zimmer, it’s that he doesn’t need to transform into a star. Simply becoming a reliable enough hitter that he can be utilized as the lefty in a platoon split with Luplow would qualify as a valuable contribution. But that’s also the minimum of what Zimmer probably has to do in order to earn himself a role going forward.

Next. Latest rumors on Yasiel Puig. dark

The Indians don’t appear poised to go guns blazing into the external outfield market, which likely means Zimmer will get a chance to state his case at some point next season. Cleveland has waited the better part of three years for his upside to pay off. Maybe the towering lefty rewards that patience in year four.