The Cleveland Indians had a magical 2016 season, one that fell just one victory short of baseball’s ultimate prize. Cleveland won the American League Central Division crown by eight games.
The Indians then bounced a pair of AL East heavyweights, the Boston Red Sox and Toronto Blue Jays, out of the playoffs.
Advancing to the World Series for the first time in nearly two decades, Cleveland bolted out to a lead of 3-1 against the heavily favored Chicago Cubs.
The Cubs rallied, and tied the Fall Classic, sending it to an epic Game Seven. That final game went down to a rare “Golden Pitch” twice. Either club had a chance to win the World Series based on the outcome of that pitch.
In the end, Mike Montgomery induced Michael Martinez to ground weakly to third base, and the Cubs had ended their 108-year World Series drought.
It is now the Indians who are left to carry the weight of the longest such drought. Cleveland has not won the World Series since 1948.
PLENTY OF RETURNING TALENT
As they look ahead to defending both their AL Central title and the American League pennant in 2017, the Indians would appear to again be a favorite.
The Indians may lose two key regulars from their lineup in first baseman Mike Napoli and outfielder Rajai Davis. Both veterans are free agents.
Cleveland’s starting rotation will again be led by ace Corey Kluber. In the bullpen, Andrew Miller will be back to lead a deep set of options for manager Terry Francona.
The Indians will return one of the top middle infield combos in the game today in second baseman Jason Kipnis and shortstop Francisco Lindor.
Rookie center fielder Tyler Naquin will also be back. Expected back from injury is left fielder Michael Brantley.
ZIMMER THE TRIBE’S TOP PROSPECT
The Indians’ top prospect is outfielder Bradley Zimmer, who should be ready to step in and help at some point in the coming 2017 season.
Zimmer is a 6’4″ lefty hitter with tools galore. He was the Indians’ first round pick in the 2014 MLB Amateur Draft out of the University of San Francisco.
Thus far in his professional development, Zimmer has demonstrated tremendous knowledge of the strike zone. He also possesses above average speed and uncommon instincts.
In a 2015 season split between High-A Lynchburg and Double-A Akron, Bradley hit .273 with a .368 on-base percentage. He produced 16 homers, 26 doubles, 63 RBI, 84 runs scored, and 44 steals in 549 plate appearances.
This past season, Bradley split the year between Akron and Triple-A Columbus, hitting for a .250 average, but with a .365 on-base percentage. He produced 15 homers, 25 doubles, 62 RBI, 76 runs scored, and 38 stolen bases over 557 plate appearances.
ZIMMER IN THE FALL AND THE FUTURE
Zimmer then helped lead the Mesa Solar Sox to the championship of the Arizona Fall League. There he continued to demonstrate his advanced approach with a .421 on-base percentage.
On a team that included stud hitting prospects such as Ian Happ, Brian Anderson, Franklin Barreto, Eloy Jimenez, and Anthony Alford, he led the squad with seven doubles, 16 RBI and 25 runs scored. Zimmer was also second on the club with four homers and eight steals.
You won’t see Zimmer taking over a starting role in Cleveland when the 2017 season opens. He still has some finishing work to do in the minors, so fans of the Tribe can expect him back with Triple-A Columbus.
However, this is a genuine talent. By the time the Indians are moving toward the stretch run, looking to secure another run at ending their 68-year championship drought, Zimmer should be ready to step up and provide them a youthful spark.