The Cleveland Indians are red hot. The have an exciting young pitching staff, with an exciting double-play combo lighting things up atop their batting order. As they currently sit at 46-30 — amid an 11-game winning streak — with a commanding lead in the American League Central with the All-Star Break in sight, the best may actually be yet to come.
Centerfielder Tyler Naquin has played very well in his big league debut, and he is joined by nice pieces in Jose Ramirez and Lonnie Chisenhall in the Indians outfield, but they have two of the best outfield prospects in baseball working their way up the pipeline. Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier are learning the ropes side by side in Akron with the RubberDucks.
Frazier came to the Indians in 2013, when Cleveland drafted him fifth overall. After a solid half-season debut, the Indians were excited to see what the then-centerfielder could do in his 2014 full-season debut. What they got was a mixed bag.
The big stats weren’t terrible by any means, as the 6-foot-1, 190 pound righty slashed .266/.349/.411 with 18 doubles and 13 home runs. What was alarming was that he struck out 161 times while walking just 56 in 542 plate appearances. That’s a 30 percent strikeout rate, and that is a big red flag. Frazier’s biggest struggles came with breaking balls, not only simply being able handle them, but also an awareness of when to lay off of them.
A slow start to 2015 was worrisome, as he ended the first half of the season with a .248/.334/.395 line and a 73-to-27 strikeout-to-walk ratio. But after he made adjustments in his batting stance and improved his pitch selection mid-season, Frazier simply blew up. He finished the season hitting .325, but more impressively, vastly improved his strikeout rate — striking out 53 times while drawing 41 walks — which improved his on base percentage to .422.
His success has thus far carried over to 2016. Frazier has since shifted from an everyday centerfielder to a more versatile outfielder, making 22 appearances in left, 16 in center and 21 in right heading into Tuesday nights action. He has decent speed and a solid enough arm that will play from the corners at the next level.
The reason Frazier has shifted from centerfield to the corners is because he and Bradley Zimmer are on the field together now. Zimmer is the kind of prospect who isn’t elite in any one skill, but seems to have an above-average grasp on every aspect of the game. The big lefty hitter is likely the centerfielder of the not-so-distant Indians’ future.
The Indians made Zimmer the 21st overall pick in the 2014 MLB Draft after a strong junior season at the University of San Francisco. Now in his third season, the 6-foot-4, left-handed hitting, right-handed throwing Zimmer has shown the speed, pop and defensive prowess to be one of baseball’s budding stars.
The 2014 season saw Zimmer jump from the NYPL to Low-A quite successfully, slashing a combined .302/.400/.429. Last season saw Zimmer dominate High-A and then struggle quite a bit in his first 49 games at Double-A.
All of Zimmer’s skill set was on full display for the Lynchburg Hillcats. He hit .308 while getting on base at a very impressive .403 lick. He flashed not only his speed, but his base-path awareness, going 32-for-37 in stolen bases. And he was an extra-base machine, racking up 17 doubles, three triples and 10 home runs.
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