After weeks of rumors and speculation, the Cleveland Indians announced late Sunday night that the organization has moved its top two prospects, outfielders Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer, to Triple-A Columbus.
The simultaneous move came after both have been subject of rumors linked to ways the Indians front office can bolster the 25-man roster of its first place club in the American League Central Division. Cleveland, with a six-game lead after the completion of Sunday’s games, has the second-best record in the league after being swept by the Baltimore Orioles.
The decision to promote both to the top level of the farm system may not have any bearing on whether the two are still with the club when the calendar flips to August, but given the projected holes in the outfield over the coming seasons and the Indians’ tendencies to hold in high regard their own top prospects, the relocation of both Frazier and Zimmer may indicate that neither will be moving anywhere but closer to becoming contributors to Cleveland’s parent club.
The Indians outfield has been one of the glaring points of concern this season as the club has played all but eleven games without the services of its former MVP candidate and All-Star, Michael Brantley, who continues to work back from the shoulder injury he sustained at the end of last September. While the Indians would be unlikely to promote either of the two youngsters to the Majors any sooner than September, if at all this season, it is a promising step forward for both.
The move may be the most encouraging surrounding the younger of the two, Frazier, who has spent parts of just four months with the Double-A Akron RubberDucks while performing well against Eastern League pitching overall, with the exception of a recent slump over the last couple of weeks.
Frazier, 21, was the Indians’ first round pick (fifth overall) in the 2013 draft. Set to turn 22 in September, he has had a strong season overall for the RubberDucks in his first year at the Double-A level.
His path to the Majors has been a bit slower than Zimmer’s as he was taken straight out of high school. He made his debut in 2013 in the Arizona League before spending all of the 2014 season at Class-A Lake County. He appeared in 120 games, hitting .266 with 18 doubles, 13 homers, and 50 RBI while struggling some with the strikeout.
He spent all of 2015 at High-A Lynchburg, where he recovered well from a slow start to put together a solid overall season, including a .285/.377/.465 slash with 36 doubles, 16 homers, 72 RBI, and 15 stolen bases. This came after he hit .247 in April and .216 in June. He bounced back with a .363 average in July, .295 in August, and .346 in his final seven games of the year in September.
Frazier reached base safely in each of his first 22 games this season, including all 20 games that he played in April with an eleven-game hitting streak to start the month and an eight-game streak to end the month. May was more of the same as he was kept off base just once (May 3) in 22 games, despite missing seven days on the disabled list at the end of the month.
After failing to reach base in the final three games of June, he started July with an eight-game hitting streak and was selected to participate in both the Eastern League All-Star Game and Major League Baseball’s All-Star Futures Game in San Diego on July 10, where his red locks were on display for the baseball world. He was slowed some when the second half of the Eastern League season resumed, going hitless in six of his first seven games back, before hitting a homer on July 21 and coming up a triple short of a cycle in a four-hit game in Altoona on July 23.
For the season, Frazier is hitting .276 with a .356 on-base percentage and .469 slugging percentage with 25 doubles, one triple, 13 homers, and 48 RBI while stealing 13 bases in 17 attempts.
The promotion comes after just 88 games played at the Double-A level.
The 23-year-old Zimmer joined the Indians organization a season after Frazier out of the University of San Francisco. He was the club’s first round pick (21st overall) and had been previously selected by the Chicago Cubs in the 23rd round of the 2011 draft out of high school.
Zimmer spent his first pro season at short-season Mahoning Valley, appearing in 45 games, and Lake County, where he played just three games. Last season, he began the year at High-A Lynchburg with Frazier and, after posting a .308/.403/.493 slash with 17 doubles, three triples, ten homers, 39 RBI, and 32 stolen bases in 78 games, he was promoted after his own All-Star appearance in the Carolina League and MLB Futures Game selection. He struggled and dealt with injury in 49 games with Akron to end that season, hitting .219 with a .313 on-base percentage with the ‘Ducks.
After skipping fall league play to recover, he returned for round two with the RubberDucks this season and has had some mixed results overall, but still plenty of positive numbers to be excited about moving forward. He played in 93 games for Akron with a .253/.371/.471 slash with 20 doubles, six triples, 14 homers, and 53 RBI. He has stolen 33 bases in 46 attempts on the year. He was an Eastern League All-Star and appeared in the league’s Home Run Derby during its All-Star festivities at Canal Park.
His July numbers have been promising, as he has hit .324 with a .422 on-base percentage in 19 games in the month after hitting .214 with a .325 OBP in 29 June contests. He is on pace to establish new career highs in several offensive categories this season. His 20 doubles are six short and his 14 homers two short of his totals from last season. He needs ten more RBI to equal the run production from a season ago. All of this has been done in 35 fewer games than he played in 2015. He has been caught stealing a career-high 13 times as he has aggressively attacked the base paths this season.
His strikeout rate is sitting at a career-high of 28% of his plate appearances and it has gotten some attention this season, but he has made some notable strides in improving that mark while working with RubberDucks hitting coach and former Major League catcher Tim Laker, who adjusted Zimmer’s stance at the plate to make it more narrow. Zimmer was striking out in over 30% of his plate appearances in each of the first two months of the season, but dropped that mark to 28.4% in June and to 22.8% in July. He has done so while drawing walks in 14% of his trips to the plate, helping to improve his OBP and give him plenty of opportunities to be a threat on the bases.
The promotions will undoubtedly cause a roster shakeup at several levels. Several veterans on the Columbus roster could get pinched for playing time or even for roster spots as the Clippers make room for their new faces. Longtime member of the organization, outfielder Bryson Myles, was released earlier in the day Sunday. The vacancies in Akron were filled by outfielders Greg Allen, and Luigi Rodriguez from Lynchburg. Any promotions from the High-A level could lead to more movement at both Class-A Lake County and short-season Mahoning Valley, where several more players could climb the organizational ladder.
As Frazier and Zimmer become members of the Clippers and take their first swings against Triple-A pitching, it is yet another sign that the future is not so far away for the Indians organization. If the two highly talented outfielders live up to the expectations laid before them as former first round draft picks, they will only make what looks to be a dangerous Cleveland roster a threat for many more years to come.
Photo: David Monseur/MILB.com