Bradley Zimmer has been in the major leagues less than three months, and the Cleveland Indians’ rookie center fielder has already made his mark with many highlight-reel catches.
“He’s one of the best defensive center fielder I’ve ever seen,” said a scout from a National League team. “He can really go get it. He has great range, great instincts and a plus arm. I can see a bunch of Gold Gloves in the future for this kid.”
The advanced metrics don’t back up the scout’s assessment. Zimmer has been credited with only one defensive run saved in 71 games in center field since making his debut on May 16 following his callup from Triple-A Columbus.
However, Zimmer is passing the eye test of nearly everyone who has watched the 24-year-old, including Indians manager Terry Francona.
“He’s already a very good center fielder, and he’s only get to get better as he gains more experience,” Francona said. “I’m very comfortable with having him out there, and think he’s been a plus for us. He’s moves well and he’s very athletic.”
The 6-foot-5, 220-pound Zimmer has also impressed teammate Austin Jackson, who was a starting center fielder for the first six seasons of his career, from 2010-15, but is now filling a reserve outfielder role.
“Physically, it’s impressive to see a big guy going to get balls like that, and his speed on the bases,” Jackson said. “His baseball instincts are what really stand out. He’s been able to catch some balls I thought he had no business catching.”
That Zimmer is making an impact isn’t a surprise. He was considered the Indians’ top prospect coming into the season, and was their first-round pick in the 2014 amateur draft from the University of San Francisco.
To this point, Zimmer has drawn more attention for his glovework. However, he is also having a solid offensive season, hitting .261/.328/.429 with eight home runs and 13 stolen bases in 14 attempts in 75 games.
The Indians are leading the American League Central by 3.5 games over the Minnesota Twins. They also won the AL Central last season with a rookie and former first-round pick manning center field.
Tyler Naquin hit .296/.372/.514 with 14 home runs in 116 games in helping the Indians reach the World Series. He finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting behind Detroit Tigers right-hander Michael Fulmer and New York Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez,
However, Naquin is back at Columbus this season while Zimmer has laid claim to the center field job.
“It’s the culmination a lot of hard work Bradley has put in over the last year and a half,” Indians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said. “He’s made a lot of improvement to put himself in this position.”
For Zimmer’s part, he isn’t getting caught up in being in the major leagues for the first time.
“It’s great to be here, but what makes me happy is that the team is winning and I’ve been able to play a part in that,” Zimmer said. “This is a team that came into the season with hopes of going back to the World Series. All I want to do what I can to get back there. That’s all I’m really thinking about.”