Zimmer and Allen Grow Up Together, Now Play Together
Steve Eby | On 20, Aug 2014
They grew up just about 12 miles apart on the San Diego Freeway, but now only Eastwood Field’s right-centerfield gap in Niles, Ohio separates two of the Indians most promising picks from the 2014 first-year player draft.
Bradley Zimmer of La Jolla, California, has been the regular centerfielder for the Class-A Mahoning Valley Scrappers this season, while Greg Allen of San Diego patrols the area just to the left of Zimmer in right field. Zimmer was the first pick by the Cleveland Indians in June’s draft—21st overall—while Allen was taken in the sixth round. Zimmer was hopeful for the chance to be taken in the first round, while Allen said it didn’t matter as long as he got there.
“It was definitely in my mind about having a chance to go in the first round,” Zimmer said. “It’s obviously an honor to get selected in the first round of the amateur-player draft.”
“The big thing for me was just making it here any way that I could,” Allen added. “It didn’t matter if it was in the first round, sixth, or even after that. I’m just glad I can be here.”
The two outfielders have batted in the top of the Scrappers lineup for much of the season, with Allen batting leadoff while Zimmer hits third. Both players are happy with the success that they have had in their first professional experience.
“Things have been good,” Zimmer said. “I’ve had a good time so far. From a results standpoint, I’m just trying to go out there and do what I can to better myself as a player and to help my team win. I’m looking forward to finishing up strong here in August.”
“I’ve definitely enjoyed my experiences thus far,” Allen said. “For me, it’s just been a learning process. I’m just trying to get better every day. Having a chance to play every day has been huge. I’m getting a chance to get out there and I’m just trying to compete. I’m trying to do the best with the opportunities that I’ve had.”
Outside of being drafted by a Major League organization, one of the best opportunities that Allen has had was to play college baseball at San Diego State University over the previous years. While playing for the Aztecs, Allen was recruited and coached by former San Diego Padre and Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who passed away this summer after Allen was drafted.
“Coach Gwynn had a huge impact, not only on my baseball life, but also on my personal development,” Allen said. “The way he carried himself both on and off of the field with his character, his integrity and the way he went about being the best at his craft; those were all things that I was able to learn from him while I was at San Diego State. Just having that opportunity to learn from him was something that I can’t even put into words of what a great experience it was. I’m so grateful for him and it’s definitely going to be a tough loss when I go back home.”
For Zimmer, his college experience was at the University of San Francisco, where he was considered one of the best college hitters in the nation after batting .368 with seven homeruns, 31 RBI and 21 stolen bases during his junior year in 2014. One of his more memorable moments, however, came when he was able to play with his brother, Kyle Zimmer of the Kansas City Royals organization, for one year of his college career.
“I was fortunate enough to play with him for a year in college which was pretty cool,” Zimmer said. “Both of us and my parents are looking forward to the day that we square off against each other on the big stage.”
Being teammates, the Zimmer brothers have never faced each other in actual game competition…yet. Younger brother Bradley is confident that he’ll be able to hit his older sibling when that day comes.
“I still have never faced him,” Zimmer said with a smile, “so I’m looking forward to doing that in the future. I’ll definitely get him.”
Both Allen and Zimmer have produced well during their short stay in Mahoning Valley as Allen has posted a .259 batting average with 22 steals, seven doubles and two triples in 46 games. Zimmer has lived up to his first round billing as well, as the 6’4” outfielder has batted .321 with three homeruns and 23 RBI. An outstanding athlete, Zimmer has added eight stolen bases to his resume as well. For both players, their first season in Mahoning Valley is hopefully just the first step in becoming like the players that they like to emulate.
“There are a lot of people that I try to take something away from in the way I try to play the game,” Allen said. “Staying within the organization, I think about being a guy like Michael Bourn…a guy who can use his legs to change the game.”
“I really like watching Carlos Gonzalez play,” Zimmer said of the Colorado Rockies star outfielder. “He’s the type of hitter that I’d like to be in the next couple years. I can also see myself being the type of player like a Jacoby Ellsbury (of the New York Yankees).”
In order to become like these Major League All-Stars, both young players need to continue working on perfecting their crafts in the lower levels of the minor leagues. While there, both mentioned the assistance that they are receiving from another former Major League hitter on the coaching staff.
“We have great coaches and management here,” Allen said. “Our hitting coach, Phil Clark, has been with me pretty much since day one. He’s helped keep me on track and to fine-tune a couple of things. I’ve definitely enjoyed it.”
“It’s been great,” Zimmer added, “they’ve treated me very well through my stay here in Mahoning Valley. I’ve been working a lot with Phil Clark and he’s been awesome. (Manager) Ted Kubiak is really cool, too. I’ve got to give them a lot of credit.”
The lessons learned from their coaches should go a long way in helping the two young stars to accomplish their dreams.
“I just want to keep improving every day,” Zimmer said. “I try to stay with my approach and just go out and have fun. Ultimately, I just want to get better every single day.”
“Every day you’re working to get better at something,” Allen added. “At the plate I need to stay disciplined and have quality at bats. I just do what I can to get on base and put myself in a position to score runs for the team.”
While improvement may be the goal for now, the ultimate goal for these two athletes won’t be fulfilled until the day that they step out onto Progressive Field in full uniform. Allen has yet to make the trip to downtown Cleveland, while Zimmer was able to check out the sights in June.
“I’ve seen (Progressive Field) on TV and caught some of the games, but I’ve never personally been there,” Allen said. “I think the first time I’ll get to meet some of those guys is during instructionals or at spring training next year.”
“I was lucky enough to go out and tour the field…see the locker room and meet some of the guys,” Zimmer said. “I talked to Terry Francona for a little bit. It was cool.”
While in Cleveland, Zimmer got a small taste of what the big city is all about.
“It was a cool city. It definitely seems like a sports town. You’ve got Progressive Field, the basketball arena and the football stadium all kind of in the same region. The fans seem great and I’m really excited to move up and be a Cleveland Indian.”
If and when that does happen, both players feel like the fans should be excited for what they are going to get from the two outfielders.
“I think you’ll see someone who just enjoys playing the game, wants to compete and will do his best,” Allen said of himself. “I always want to do what I can to put my team in a position to win.”
“I’m a really aggressive player, overall,” Zimmer added. “I think you’ll see me taking bases when I can…like trying to stretch a single into a double. I’m pretty aggressive at the plate too—driving the ball into the gap. I just try to have fun and be loose out there.”
One challenge of staying loose while playing in Cleveland can be those bitter cold April nights that Tribe fans know so well. It’s a scenario that Allen and Zimmer aren’t really used to and one that is certainly hard to simulate in Southern California.
“Guys have kind of warned me about that,” Allen said with a laugh. “Especially when we first get back here from spring training, the weather is going to be a little different than back home in San Diego. I actually have seen some snow, maybe once or twice, back when I was younger—like nine or ten years old. I’m not too familiar with it—especially having to play baseball in it—so that should definitely be something fun and new.”
“I’ve actually been to the snow quite a bit, believe it or not,” Zimmer chuckled. “But, I’ve never really been much of a cold-weather guy, so it will take some getting used to.”
Photos: Jessie Piecuch and Michael Taylor/Tribune Chronicle