Cleveland (92.3 the Fan) – The last 24 years, especially since he was drafted in 2014, have been a learning experience that have led Bradley Zimmer to the moment on Monday night when he was informed he was a major leaguer.
Now that the center fielder, the top prospect in the Indians organization and 45th in baseball according to Fangraphs, has accomplished the dream of any baseball player, the real learning curve has just begun.
Between an onslaught of media, the expectations of fans, and re-accommodating to a barely familiar set of teammates, Zimmer also has to manage the book. Now that there is nowhere else to rise, that means pitchers and opposing managers will have to adjust to him, and the will have to adjust to their scouting reports.
The latter will come down the road, and for now, Zimmer’s main goal will be adjusting to face the top-tier of talent day in and day out.
“We’ve talked about it a little bit,” Manager Terry Francona said. “I told him that today could be the most exciting day of his life. Enjoy it, and then the quicker that the guys know that he cares about winning, and that’s not just getting hits, that’s the perceived little things are big things here. You do those, the guys will know that.
“I think he understands that. And I just told him not to be afraid to ask questions. I would hate for somebody to walk around and not know. That’s not good. I said, ‘Don’t be afraid to ask a question.’”
Francona said he instructed bench coach Brad Mills to let Zimmer feel the game out on his own for the first few days in order to not overcomplicate an already intense moment.
“If he makes a mistake because he’s out of position, we can talk to him as he goes,” the skipper added. “I don’t want him to be so consumed with being in exactly the right spot, because his wheels are going to be spinning a little bit. They’re going to be going fast.”
The manager was unaware that his new first-round prospect was placed next in the locker room to the player in the clubhouse who went through the Indians system with as much hype as Zimmer, SS Francisco Lindor.
With the same sort of off-field challenges facing him, Zimmer was excited to share space with a top-level talent, having the chance to learn from the All-Star.
“It was awesome. Coming in, immediately seeing my name with the number four, right next to Lindor. It was pretty cool,” Zimmer said. “It’s cool just because he’s doing some pretty special things this year and last year for this team. It’s cool getting to sit next to a guy like that and kind of pick his brain and be a part of the team now.”
The new wave of obstacles are not to discount the road Zimmer has faced up to this point, undergoing a recent overhaul to his swing that has shown great returns.
Once thought to have a lengthy swing deemed problematic, the lefty shortened his stroke and showed it off in a solid spring and early summer.
Compared to his 37 games in Triple-A Columbus last season, Zimmer’s key numbers are all trending towards the positive through 33 contests in 2017.
His strikeout rate, deemed to be the biggest hole in his game, has dropped from 37.3% to 29.9%, while his groundball rate (37.3%) is at an all-time low, and his line drive rate (28.9%) are at all all-time high. Not to mention, Zimmer has used more of the field than ever before, going opposite field on a career-high 36.5% of his batted balls.
“I put so much work into that, starting last year through the fall, into the off-season, up until this point and it is showing,” he said. “It’s pretty cool to see that.”
Tuesday may be the biggest day of Zimmer’s life to this point, and certainly his career. The rookie says he is approaching it like another day because he was going to be playing baseball whether it was in Columbus or Cleveland.
With plenty to anticipate, Zimmer says his new manager gave him one objective for day one: be himself.
“He basically said congratulations, enjoy the moment and just kind of took some weight off my shoulders and said, ‘Be Bradley Zimmer and do what you can tonight, enjoy it.”