The Cleveland Indians managed to patch together center field last year with a platoon of Tyler Naquin and Rajai Davis, although their defensive weaknesses showed up in the postseason, including Game 7 of the World Series. Naquin started 2017 as the center fielder, was optioned to Triple-A on April 13, and they've sort of been faking center field with converted third baseman Lonnie Chisenhall platooning with Austin Jackson.
Maybe that's not fair. By all accounts, Chisenhall has done a decent job out there. Still, does that sound like a road to a championship? Especially since the Indians haven't received much production from right field. Anyway, with Jackson on the disabled list and right fielder Abraham Almonte just landing there with a biceps injury, the club recalled Bradley Zimmer from Triple-A. He made his major league debut in Tuesday's 6-4 loss to the Rays, going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.
Keith Law's No. 3 Indians prospect entering the season, Zimmer is 6-foot-5, but he can run and is viewed as a legitimate center fielder. That's a rarity -- Dexter Fowler, Alex Rios and Von Hayes are the only center fielders in major league history listed at 6-foot-5 to play at least 300 games there -- but the concern for now is whether he can hit. He was hitting .294/.371/.532 at Columbus with five home runs in 33 games, a big improvement from his stint there in 2016, but he still struck out 43 times with a 30 percent strikeout rate. As his debut indicated, if not for the injuries to Jackson and Almonte, he probably would have been slated for more time in the minors. But as Zimmer's second-game homer suggests, he also already has something to offer.
It wouldn't surprise me if Zimmer is playing center field for the Indians in October. Note all the rookies who played prominent roles last postseason: Naquin for the Indians; Albert Almora, Willson Contreras and Carl Edwards Jr. for the Cubs; Julio Urias started an NLCS game for the Dodgers; Andrew Benintendi, Matt Bush, Trea Turner. None of those players started the season in the majors.
Besides Zimmer, Cody Bellinger and Ian Happ -- already up with the Dodgers and Cubs, respectively -- who are some other prospects from potential playoff contenders who could eventually play key roles? A few prospects to watch as spring turns to summer:
Rafael Devers, 3B, Boston Red Sox: The Red Sox have started five different third basemen and they've collectively stunk it up, ranking 27th among MLB third basemen in wOBA and committing 13 errors. Devers is just 20, but hitting .324/.393/.590 at Double-A and the Sox could do what they did with Xander Bogaerts in 2013, when he started in Double-A, got promoted to Triple-A, and was starting games at third base in the World Series.