Swing adjustment has Zimmer trending upward

Tribe's top prospect has two home runs this spring

March 6th, 2017

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- It did not look like a home run off the bat, but the baseball that soared high over right-center field on Sunday afternoon kept drifting and drifting, eventually dropping to the berm at Goodyear Ballpark. hustled around the bases, giving Indians fans another reason to daydream about the future.

"He's strong enough," said Indians manager Terry Francona, whose assessment of Zimmer was emphasized with a quick widening of his eyes.

Cleveland's brass informed Zimmer -- the team's top-ranked prospect, per MLBPipeline.com -- at the outset of Spring Training that he was not in camp to win a big league job. The young outfielder is in the big league clubhouse, dugout and lineup to gain experience, and to continue to build on the hard work he put in last season to overhaul his swing mechanics.

Zimmer is an imposing player who is listed at 6-foot-5 and 220 pounds. In all likelihood, he could reach the Majors on raw ability alone, but he has grasped that sticking in the big leagues takes more than pure talent. There is an old adage that says baseball is "a game of adjustments," and that is especially the case for a hitter whose frame and swing can easily be exposed by Major League arms.

That is why Zimmer went to the Indians last year and was all-in on adjusting his swing.

"It was awesome to see that he was still willing to go through the process to make an adjustment," said Jim Rickon, the Indians' Minor League hitting coordinator, "even though maybe his performance would go down a little bit. That's what it's about, getting better and learning.

"What good is it if he hits .320 in Triple-A, but it's not going to work in the big leagues as well as it should?"

Beginning with when Zimmer was with Double-A Akron earlier last year, Rickon said the outfielder and the team's staff began working on rebuilding the swing from the ground up. Zimmer, who was Cleveland's first-round pick in the 2014 MLB Draft, came to the organization with a very wide setup with his feet. Last year, the Indians worked on shorterning the length and opening his stance some.

Rickon said the changes Zimmer's setup would lead to better mechanics with his hips as well. When done properly, that chain reaction would then lead into the real target: Improving Zimmer's bat path.

"The whole goal was to get his bat in the way of the pitch for a little bit longer time," Rickon explained. "He was working on his swing path, he was working on what his hands were doing to get the barrel in the zone earlier and for a longer period of time."

Here is a look at Zimmer's swing while at Double-A:

Gif: Zimmer's swing

Here is one of Zimmer's swings from this spring:

Gif: Zimmer's swing at CLE

The early returns were not pretty in terms of production.

After being promoted to Triple-A Columbus last summer, Zimmer turned in a .242/.349/.305 slash line with a 37.3-percent strikeout rate in 150 plate appearances. Overall, Zimmer's strikeout rate was 30.7 percent in 2016 -- up from 23.9 in '15 and 15.7 in '14. At Triple-A, Zimmer's power went missing, and the .654 OPS was well below his career mark (.817).

The Indians knew Zimmer's numbers would probably take a hit while undergoing the swing alterations, but it was important for him to stick with the plan.

"You feel like you should just [scrap] it, because it doesn't work," Zimmer said. "For me, I stuck with it and I think I've definitely seen some positive strides from that. So, I'm just going to continue to work."

So far this spring, Zimmer has been impressive.

During his Cactus League debut, Zimmer used a powerful swing to slice a three-run homer to left-center field in a game he collected five RBIs. In Sunday's 8-2 win over the Padres, he added two more hits, launched the solo shot to right center and upped his spring total to a team-high seven RBIs.

Rickon said the swing looks more fluid and natural now, as opposed to when Zimmer was forcing himself to practice the changes last summer.

That has the Indians, along with fans, dreaming about Zimmer's potential.

"I don't think anybody's quite sure what he's going to be when he's the finished product," Francona said. "That's kind of the fun of watching. But, you get glimpses."