CLEVELAND – Experience holds substantial value in the eyes of Indians manager Terry Francona.
When a player begins his big league career, the skipper tends to put him in the best position to succeed on a consistent basis.
This principle certainly applies for Bradley Zimmer.
The 21st overall pick in the 2014 First-Year Player Draft has primarily been limited to at-bats against right-handed pitching this season, hitting .319/.405/.580 (22-for-69) in the favorable matchup compared to .273/.333/.318 (6-for-22) vs. left-handed pitching.
With a five-tool skill set and 20-20 potential at the plate, it certainly can be tempting for Francona to thrust this gem of an outfielder into an everyday role.
“I was kicking myself last night. I should’ve played him last night,” said Francona. “I think the main focus needs to be on the starter that night, because he’s going to face the majority of the at-bats. But, you also want to have a bench where, you think like, ‘Okay, if we get in a situation, we can do this or do that.’ But, I was kind of kicking myself. I probably should’ve played him.”
Even though Adalberto Mejia was making just his 10th MLB start on Friday, Francona opted for Daniel Robertson rather than Zimmer, a 31-year-old journeyman that just broke out of an 0-for-23 skid. Trusting Francona and his gradual process for rookies will be key, even if statistical evidence disproves his decisions.
“We’re trying to develop this kid,” Francona said. “You try to maybe give him what you think he can handle, because I think as he grows, he’s going to grow into handling a lot. But, I don’t think it’s bad to kind of work into it, because this league can be really tough on people. You feel a responsibility to kind of try to help guys along. I know he wants to play every day, and there’s going to be a day when he does.”
Zimmer is doing everything possible to earn more playing time, leading the Tribe in on-base percentage (.388) and weighted stolen base runs (wSB: 0.9), two stats that indicate his ability to reach base and create runs. For a team that lost Rajai Davis, this kind of production on the base paths is not only encouraging, but also necessary in building a winning organization.
“He swings at strikes. He’s not going to chase. And it’s a real mature approach,” said Francona. “Right when you think maybe there’s been a couple at-bats where they’re kind of getting the best of him, he’ll kind of waffle one into left field or he’ll beat a ball out. He has the ability to bunt. He has a lot of ways of staying away from a lot of 0-fors.”
The 25-year-old also contributes on the defensive side of the ball, already recording two assists on a pair of rocket throws from center field. When a player has Grady Sizemore’s speed with Shin-Soo Choo’s arm strength, the possibilities seem endless.
“He hasn’t missed a cut-off man,” Francona said. “And also still having enough on the ball to throw a guy out at the plate where you get the best of both worlds. If you get the out, good. If you don’t, somebody can cut it and there’s not runners running all over the place.”
Between his defensive prowess, blazing speed on the bases and ferocious power stroke in the batter’s box, Zimmer is making a case to break out of his platoon shell and become the face of an emerging franchise.
“When we’re winning, and they bring in a lefty, we’ve never hit for him, because he’s our best center fielder,” said Francona. “It kind of allows you to let him have some at-bats, knowing that maybe it’s not the greatest matchup. But, we’re winning and he’s so good defensively, but give him the experience. Heck yeah.”
Moving forward, Cleveland will expect more of the same from Zimmer with the intent to make him an everyday piece of its winning formula.
“I think we’ve been really pleasantly pleased with not just his ability to go get the ball in center field, because that’s kind of almost God given, but his willingness to be ready for every pitch, and to pay attention, and his throwing,” Francona said. “Everybody has their own way of doing things. I just think that players are better when they’re allowed to be themselves and be athletic.”
John Alfes has covered the Indians for IBI since August of 2016. Follow him on Twitter @JohnAlfes for breaking news and in-depth coverage all season long.