Outfielder Bradley Zimmer and the Rockies are in agreement on a minor league deal, reports Thomas Harding of MLB.com. The ISE Baseball client will also receive an invite to major league Spring Training.
Zimmer, now 31, was once a first-round draft pick and top 100 prospect, with evaluators noting his potential to be a true five-tool talent. He has gone on to provide excellent speed and defense but he developed a strikeout problem as he climbed the minor league ladder that has prevented him from being a valuable contributor at the plate.
To this point in his career, he has 975 plate appearances at the major league level and has been punched out in 33.9% of them. That’s well beyond the league average, which was 22.7% in 2023. Zimmer’s 7.8% walk rate is also subpar, though only slightly. His combined batting line of .213/.298/.333 translates to a wRC+ of 74, or 26% below league average.
But the other parts of his game have generally lived up to the hype. He has 42 steals in 50 tries, with his sprint speed usually ranking near the top of league leaderboards. On defense, he has played all three outfield spots and racked up 14 Outs Above Average, 15 Defensive Runs Saved and a grade of 7.8 from Ultimate Zone Rating.
Those are some nice qualities, but the hitting problems have prevented him from carving out a meaningful role in the bigs. He was drafted by Cleveland and spent the first few years of his career with them, until he had exhausted his option years after 2021. He led to him bouncing around in 2022, getting traded to the Blue Jays, before being claimed off waivers by the Phillies and then going back to the Jays on another waiver claim.
He was non-tendered by the Jays and signed a minor league deal with the Dodgers for 2023. He was released in mid-May and signed another minors pact, this one with the Red Sox. Between those two organizations, he put up a batting line of .210/.326/.346 at the Triple-A level last year while striking out in 37.3% of his trips to the plate.
Despite his warts, Zimmer is a solid fit for the Rockies. It has been reported this offseason that they are looking for a left-handed hitting outfielder who can play all three outfield slots, which would apply to Zimmer. With Charlie Blackmon likely to be in the designated hitter slot most of the time, the club’s remaining outfield mix leans right-handed. Nolan Jones is left-handed but Kris Bryant, Hunter Goodman, Brenton Doyle and Sean Bouchard are all righties. Michael Toglia is a switch-hitter but hasn’t clicked in the big leagues yet and still has options.
Bryant is likely ticketed for regular work at first base this year, leaving two spots available next to Jones for that group. Doyle is fairly similar to Zimmer, in that he’s an elite defender and runner but has big strikeout issues. He received 431 plate appearances in the big leagues last year but was punched out in 35% of them while slashing just .203/.250/.343. He stole 22 bases and received excellent grades for his glovework but the offense is clearly a work in progress, and his Double-A and Triple-A strikeout rates are also above 30%.
As for the others, Goodman hit just .200/.247/.386 in his first 77 MLB plate appearances. He has hit well in the minors but is considered a poor defender who may end up at first base in the long term. Bouchard has some decent offensive numbers but missed most of last season due to injury, is considered a poor defender and is now about to turn 28 years old.
With neither of Goodman or Bouchard considered assets in the field, it would make sense to have Zimmer on hand as a late-game defensive replacement or pinch runner. His left-handed bat also could create some platoon opportunities, but he’s still not great at the plate even with the platoon advantage. He’s hit righties for a .216/.305/.350 line and 80 wRC+ in his career, compared to .204/.276/.285 and a wRC+ of 56 against southpaws.