Projecting Bradley Zimmer

The reigning American League champion Cleveland Indians haven’t been quite as dominant so far in 2017 as last year. Lackluster production from their outfielders has been a big culprit. Michael Brantley is seemingly healthy and productive once again, but there’s been a void beyond him. Abraham Almonte, Brandon Guyer, and Austin Jackson have been varying degrees of unremarkable in limited playing time and have all found their way to the 10-day DL. Minor-league journeyman Daniel Robertson has been playing right field this week, while Lonnie Chisenhall has started 18 games in center this season.

The Indians were desperate for outfield help, and luckily they had an impact player waiting in the wings in the form of top prospect Bradley Zimmer. Zimmer has mashed Triple-A pitching this year to the tune of .294/.371/.532 and has stolen nine bases. Zimmer is a 6-foot-5 power hitter who also happens to be a speedy center fielder, which means Chisenhall can return to a corner where he belongs. Zimmer has also posted double-digit walk rates at most levels of the minors, which gives him yet another way to provide value. Very few prospects can get on base, hit for power, and play good defense at a premium position, making Zimmer a rare bird. On the downside, however, Zimmer has some serious contact issues that threaten to eat away at his offensive value. He struck out at a high-but-acceptable 30% clip this year, but was up over 37% in his first crack at Triple-A last year, when he hit .242 without any power.

KATOH generally doesn’t like high-strikeout prospects, but Zimmer is an exception since he does everything else well. The size, power, speed, defense, and walks outweigh the one extreme red flag in Zimmer’s game. Even if he strikes out a ton, he should at least draw some walks and hit the occasional homer. And his ability to play center takes some of the pressure off of his bat. KATOH+, which incorporates his ranking on prospect lists, pegs him for 10.2 WAR, good for 15th among prospect-eligible players. The stats-only version forecasts 9.7, which places him at No. 11.

To put some faces to Zimmer’s statistical profile, I calculated a weighted Mahalanobis distance between Zimmer’s Double-A and Triple-A numbers and every season by an outfielder since 1991. In the table below, you’ll find the 10 most similar seasons, ranked from most to least similar. The WAR totals refer to each player’s first six seasons in the major leagues. A lower “Mah Dist” reading indicates a closer comp.

Please note that the Mahalanobis analysis is separate from KATOH. KATOH relies on macro-level trends, rather than comps. The fates of a few statistically similar players shouldn’t be used to draw sweeping conclusions about a prospect’s future. For this reason, I recommend using a player’s KATOH forecast to assess his future potential. The comps give us some interesting names that sometimes feel spot-on, but they’re mostly just there for fun.

Bradley Zimmer’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Name Mah Dist KATOH+ WAR Actual WAR
1 Mike Humphreys 1.24 5.3 0.0
2 Jayson Werth 1.56 5.4 12.0
3 Alex Ochoa 2.07 6.3 7.2
4 Shannon Stewart 2.81 11.8 16.7
5 Jacoby Ellsbury 2.90 10.1 22.4
6 Ray McDavid 2.95 7.1 0.0
7 Kevin Gibbs 3.12 9.3 0.0
8 Juan Pierre 3.33 10.9 19.3
9 Gregor Blanco 3.80 5.6 7.4
10 Joe Borchard 3.91 5.1 0.4

Most of the players here went on to have some level of big-league success; however, most don’t really feel like appropriate comps for Zimmer. Guys like Ellsbury, Pierre, and Blanco share Zimmer’s stolen-base prowess, but their offensive profiles were more contact oriented. Borchard, on the other hand, was missing the speed. Jayson Werth feels like the most optimistically reasonable comp here, both in terms of size and offensive package. Like Zimmer, Werth was a 6-foot-5 outfielder with power, speed, patience, and a bit of a strikeout problem.

Zimmer’s contact issues are worth monitoring, especially given his rough introduction to Triple-A last year. It’s very possible that big-league pitchers will find ways to exploit his long swing and he’ll need to adjust. But all things considered, Zimmer is one of baseball’s most promising young players. His rare power-speed combo make him one of the most exciting prospects who will be promoted this year. And given Cleveland’s current position, he could make a big difference right away.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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Zach Walters Appreciation Guild
5 years ago

That Juan Pie comp is really weird. The Juan Pierre comp is also really weird, given their MiLB iso disparities.