CLEVELAND (92.3 the Fan) – No matter who you are when you enter the minor leagues, you will eventually hit adversity. Especially in the Cleveland Indians organization.
Prior to the draft, Indians scouting director Brad Grant spoke more about former picks who have made it to the league than any in this year’s draft. That was because the team did not pick until the 64th pick, which they used on high school OF Quentin Holmes, because of their first rounder going to Toronto as compensation for signing Edwin Encarnacion.
In talking about quick-rising pitching prospect Triston McKenzie, Grant mentioned that the youngster’s tremendous progression has seen him push through adversity, but that the team will continue to push him towards those hard times.
That is an organizational philosophy, waiting to see a prospect work through tough situations to both maximize their potential and see what they are made of mentally.
Indians center fielder Bradley Zimmer is having a fine start to his big league career, splitting .246/.333/.508 over 22 appearances thus far, but he hit a challenging stretch in 2016.
Starting his season in Double-A Akron for the first time, Zimmer saw his strikeout rate balloon to the highest mark of his career, ending up at 28.3 percent. As the RubberDucks hit a double-digit losing streak, the Tribe’s star prospect struggled mightily, something he said he never saw coming.
“I’ve always been one of, if not the best, players on my team from the when I was four, or whenever it was I started playing baseball,” Zimmer said. “It’s kind of one of those things where like, ‘it’ll never happen to me, I’ll just coast along.’”
The former first round pick did not wallow in his trouble, but said that the first adjustment for his next step was a mental one.
“For me it was just, as I’m sure they know, letting the coaches in,” he said. “Letting that outside source of help and coaching, knowledge of the game, in to help me and make me a better player. I did that and carried it into the off-season and played in Fall League, continued to make adjustments and it just kind of clicked in Spring Training.”
Zimmer opened eyes all Spring in Goodyear, splitting .358/.424/.660 in 23 contests, and when the success carried over to his second stint at Triple-A Columbus, it was enough to earn promotion when the Indians had injury issues in the outfield.
“I think it was huge for my development because you realize it happens to everyone and it prepares you to make it a lot shorter (as opposed to) it lingering and continue struggling,” he said. “If I had any advice for guys out there, it’s going to happen to you at some point, so accept it and better yourself from it.”
Another top pick in recent memory, Francisco Lindor, said he had struggles monthly in the minors. The first rounder in 2011 only had one season, 2012, where he did not earn a promotion mid-season.
The 2016 All-Star echoed Zimmer’s sentiments, that struggles will happen at some point regardless, adding that promotions are never primarily based on merit at the moment.
“When you start slumping, when you don’t do things the right way, baseball is going to come back and get you,” Lindor said. “The long bus rides, all that stuff, it’s definitely a grind. … The struggles of you wanting to get called up, wanting to get called up, you don’t get called up when you want. You get called up randomly. Out of nowhere you get called up.”
The shortstop called the journey “fun,” though many may not agree, especially given the mental stress Lindor highlighted.
“You try to go out there every day but it’s in the back of your head,” he said. “Everything you do in the minor leagues is to try and get up here. There’s not a day that goes by that you don’t think about the big leagues.
“Anyone who tells you that they don’t, they won’t make it to the big leagues, they shouldn’t even be in the minor leagues.”