Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer: How good are they?

“Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you!” Leroy “Satchel” Paige

In the land of competition, there’s nothing more exceptional than two players at the same skill level, trying to achieve the same goal. For the Indians’ nothing epitomizes this unique experience better than Akron outfielders and top prospects, Clint Frazier and Bradley Zimmer.

Their “competition” is unique, in that they are both outfielders, both center fielders, and both have the ability to play the corner outfield positions as well. Both have an upside offensively that is ‘off-the-charts,’ and both have a major league calendar that will likely play out in the same year.

The only general questions that remain for both is where the Indians see them regarding their development, and here is where both players start to diverge on their path to the big leagues.

Frazier was drafted first by the Indians, the fifth pick in the first round as an 18-year old high school outfielder, loaded with tools, but his measures were murky thanks to youth and just raw talent. Zimmer was drafted a year later, the 21st pick in the first round as a 21-year old junior in college, loaded with tools, with measures seemingly more clear thanks to three college years in the books.

The visible stats seem to fit about what you’d expect from a high school player with RAW tools and a college player with more defined skills. Frazier showed promise on his way to Double A Akron, but had his trials and tribulations offensively. Zimmer essentially skipped Lake County, destroyed High A, before landing in Akron a half season before Frazier.

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It’s always fun pondering the question of how good prospects really are. There are so many questions involved when evaluating a player, and so much of that evaluation is unique to the organization, the skill level of their organizational leagues, and the skill level at the major league level, from year-to-year. There’s nothing more fluid than organizational rankings, and nothing more flawed than trying to predicate where these kids ultimately land.

The perfect scenario for any organization is to draft a player who’s skill level transcends all those questions. These are the can’t miss prospects, that play up in any organization, and are successful big leaguers regardless of MLB level of play.

The Indians have had two of these players in the past few seasons. The first is Francisco Lindor, who excelled at every level of the organization, and whose talent and make-up was almost immeasurable because of it. It took him awhile because of two factors: his age, and the level at which the Indians wanted to ensure success. While it’s easy to say, “he was mature enough years ago,” the data always suggests waiting is better than forcing.

Ask Brandon Phillips.

The other such player was Cody Allen. While Lindor was drafted as a 17-year old, Allen was a 22-year old redraft, who literally blasted through the system in less than two years. Lindor was a first-rounder, while Allen was a 23-rounder. It is what it is.

My point is simply that both players, while taking different routes, transcended levels and talent. They were just above it all. Those players are rare. They don’t need much tinkering, although there’s always tinkering. The point is simply that tinkering or not, they were making it to the big leagues if they stayed healthy. They did. They are.

This brings me back to Zimmer and Frazier, and how their talent matches up with other systems.

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Does Bradley Zimmer and Clint Frazier have skills that transcend levels, and current skillsets?

I often ask myself these questions, both as a baseball fan, a writer, and as someone who likes to evaluate prospects as a hobby. My training as an “evaluator” isn’t based in degrees or tenure as a scout, but in this convoluted mix of former player/coach/writer/fan, who has been blessed enough to have spent time talking to actual area scouts at a level in which prospects are still being heavily evaluated and tinkered with. I’m just a guy who pays attention to more detail than others, have had some access, and can spin a line or two on the computer.

In the world of bloggers, it’s important to notate the difference between folks in my line of “work,” and real talent evaluators.

I own my amateur status. The status of evaluators is such a mixed bag, and we really have to take that into account when understanding player talent, and the realities of that talent. Cody Allen and Francisco Lindor transcended all of that buzz. Do Zimmer and Frazier?

Take Jason Kipnis and Lonnie Chisenhall, both former prospects developed in the Cleveland Indians’ system. Chisenhall was selected in the first round of the 2008 MLB draft, while Kipnis was selected a year later, in the second round. Both had similar backgrounds heading to the draft board.

Chisenhall transferred out of the University of South Carolina after being charged with burglary and grand larceny. Kipnis left the University of Kentucky after two years

I am excessively high on players that overcome adversity, and improve at big time levels in the minors. Both Chisenhall and Kipnis were such players to some extent, overcoming troubled issues in college. Both Chisenhall and Kipnis recovered because of talent, and became high draft picks. Both were thought highly by all.

Both Chisenhall and Kipnis steadily climbed up to the top of the rankings. Chisenhall was more or less the top prospect for 2 1/2 years, with Kipnis right behind him for two of those seasons. Chisenhall was ranked higher by those that listened to the surface discussions because he continued to play his college position. Kipnis was behind him, not because of talent, but likely because he was a second round pick (not a first), and because he had a position shift from the outfield to second. Kipnis wasn’t supposed to be a good second baseman defensively, because people who didn’t watch him said he’d always be average at best.

But Kipnis excelled at every level, both offensively and defensively. Was he perfect? No, but you could tell that he had instinct, a feisty attitude, and a ‘get their first, leave their last” mentality. REAL SCOUTS discussed Kipnis and his work ethic in rarified air, and called him a hard-working WHITE COLLAR talent. In other words, his ‘leaps and bounds,’ by true baseball scouts, were noteworthy. It made me pay attention. I paid attention to Chisenhall too, because he kept raking. He worked hard. He did all the things you like, but I never once heard anyone outside the Indians marketing really pushing that aspect of his game.

Kipnis was mentioned because he had the gifts, and worked his butt off to excel in a way that made him noticeable…in a way that was noteworthy. Chisenhall did what he was supposed to do. Perhaps some of that was the position change, and Chisenhall has experienced some of this over the past few years shifting to the outfield, but at the time, there was a massive difference, if you paid attention at the grass roots level.

This wasn’t a knock on Lonnie Chisenhall. He was equally exceptional in many ways. The difference in talent between the two, at most levels, weren’t noteworthy in that their numbers were similar, and their pedigree noted. But Kipnis just stood out to me, for his noticeable baseball IQ, as well as his massive improvement from level-to-level both defensively, and offensively.

Both great players, but one with a chip on his shoulder to get better…to be better.

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While watching Bradley Zimmer over the past year, I was happy to see the former first rounder excel at High A Lynchburg, and distressed to see Clint Frazier struggle out of the gate. As a multi-year observer though, I knew that there was likely more than meets the eye. There always is in the minors, especially in the High A Carolina League.

Frazier’s struggles made me pay attention, because there were those that watch the surface on players, even Frazier, and begin to write them/him off. I wanted to know more, before I jumped into that boat. He’s a young player, and the coaches at Lynchburg are always working with players on parts of their game that they need to have moving up levels. This is true of Frazier, Zimmer, Kipnis, Chisenhall and even Francisco Lindor.

I was also equally interested in Zimmer, but let his numbers shroud my thinking. I let his age masquerade some of the reality. Let me put it to you this way. Sometimes, when a player who is older in a league dominates the pitching, even in the tough Carolina League, there are red flags that should be paid attention too. The Indians are usually really good at it, but sometimes miss on a player. Zimmer was less than a year younger than the average age differential in the league, and he dominated. Before anyone knew it, he was off to Akron. I just accepted it as “dominance,” and moved on. Part of that is even right.

What I should have been afraid of was the Indians NOT tinkering with a player because of age and success rate. I agree with that to an extent, but perhaps something was missed that could be troublesome as he moves through his last two levels.

EHC’s Mike Hattery brought this to my attention a few weeks ago.

Zimmer’s K% was high. What’s interesting is that it wasn’t being reported then, and still isn’t now. Look, there are other things to take a look at here, and I mentioned Zimmer’s intangibles in piece last week talking about his skill set, and that of Grady Sizemore. His K% is alarming, and with a likely jump that will take place in the bigs, you could have a player that strikes out 30% of the time. It can be fixed, but at what cost, and how long will it take?

Again, there’s more to a player than strikeouts. But that’s a pretty big red flag.

Frazier made it through the break struggling, then took off. As I mentioned previously, the Carolina League a league notorious for re-arranging swings and deliveries. It’s the place developing players perch themselves for big league success. Often, stars struggle initially getting used to mechanical changes in major pieces of their game.

That’s what happened to Frazier. Just look at his swing, from Lake County to Akron:

Lake County: