Once designated for assignment and in another organization, Bradley Zimmer has quietly filled a valuable role for the Blue Jays lately.
I’ll admit it, there were times earlier in the year when I wondered if Zimmer would last the season on the active roster, mostly because of his limited skills with the bat in his hands. Once a first round draft pick with Cleveland back in 2014, he never blossomed into the type of star that many believed he could be.
Credit to the Blue Jays in a way I suppose, because they never tried to unlock that potential that Zimmer couldn’t find in Cleveland. That’s something that we’ve seen plenty of times over the years north of the border, but not everyone turns into Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion by breaking out unexpectedly in their late 20’s, and the Blue Jays didn’t have time to wait to see if a change of scenery could turn him into a player capable of starting every day.
Instead, the Blue Jays have found a way to use Zimmer’s best skills, and with a limited lens he brings some elite talents to the table. He’s the fastest baserunner on the roster, and that has come in handy in a late-inning pinch runner role. Earlier this week Zimmer went first to third in under ten seconds, and that kind of speed on the base paths between scoring an extra run, or even winning or losing a game.
On top of the pinch-running skills, Zimmer is arguably the Blue Jays’ best outfield defender in a big group of veterans. That title could go to Jackie Bradley Jr. as well, but the former Red Sox centre fielder has probably lost a step from his glory days in Boston, and even with incredible jumps on balls in the gap it’s still pretty hard to make up for Zimmer’s speed.
That defence is even more important when you look at the Blue Jays roster and projected lineup the rest of the way. Assuming Lourdes Gurriel Jr. can get healthy and return to the active roster before the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, their starting outfield trio would consist of him, George Springer, and Teoscar Hernandez. There’s no telling how well Gurriel Jr’s hamstring will respond this late in the year, and Springer’s injury issues are well known as well.
On top of the injury issues and the need for insurance, the Blue Jays are well aware that their best defensive outfield lineup doesn’t include two of their starters. I would describe Hernandez and Gurriel Jr. as average defenders, and I’m not saying this to pick on those two. Instead, it’s clear that a trio of Springer, Zimmer, and Bradley Jr. is one of the best in baseball, and can really be an asset late in games.
The Blue Jays had to designate Zimmer for assignment earlier this season, but they were fortunate enough to get him back from the Phillies. As they look ahead to the playoffs when they’ll have to cut at least one position player from the roster to cut it back to 26, I have a hard time seeing Zimmer being the odd man out this time. He may not have a big role in Toronto, but a guy with his talents can definitely find a way to contribute in a big way.