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It seems it has been a while since the Royals have groomed a true number one starter. The only starting pitchers with at least 200 innings as a Royal since 2005 that have an ERA under 3.50 are Ervin Santana and James Shields, both of whom were acquired with a trade. From Luke Hochevar to Mike Montgomery, there’s a list of high draft picks who just haven’t panned out.
One of the latest early draft picks from Kansas City was Kyle Zimmer at the fifth overall slot in the 2012 MLB Draft. Coming out of the University of San Francisco, the 6-foot-3 right-hander showed a big arm through his two full NCAA seasons: in 2011/2012, Zimmer pitched 180 innings and struck out 193 batters. What’s even more impressive is he walked just 41 batters in the meantime, producing a 4.71 K:BB ratio. Most of those innings were out of starts as 29 of 33 of his appearances were as a starting pitcher. After he was drafted in June of 2012, he was sent to Rookie ball and eventually made his way to A-ball later in the year. Through those nine “starts,” he pitched 39.2 innings, striking out 42. Again, he kept the walks to a minimum with just eight in those innings.
Zimmer followed an impressive but brief 2012 with a somewhat deceiving 2013. Through nearly 90 innings at High-A and 18.2 innings at Double-A, Zimmer posted a 4.32 ERA. It’s deceiving because he posted a good BB/9 of 3.00, a very good K:BB ratio of 3.9, and a WHIP of 1.17. From 2010-2013, no pitcher in the MLB did that with at least 150 innings pitched and Gavin Floyd in 2011 was the only one to do so without that K:BB ratio. A K:BB ratio that good with a WHIP that low just doesn’t lead to an inflated ERA like Zimmer had in 2013 in the Minors. All the peripheral skills were there again that he’d always shown and that was more important than that ERA.
The one concern about the 2014 season for Zimmer is that he still hasn’t made his way to Double-A Arkansas. He began the season with shoulder inflammation and bicep problems. As of time of writing, he’s still taking part in extended spring training and is due to report to Double-A sometime in the very near future. Seeing as he already reached Double-A last year, he may only need about a half-dozen starts before they get him up to Triple-A.
Another problem that Zimmer had was that the team planned to have an innings limit on him this year of about 150. If they stick to that plan despite the injury, he’s going to be well under by the time September arrives. He hasn’t pitched yet in the Minors and if he misses two months, it’s conceivable that he’s well under 100 innings by the time the final month of the MLB season arrives. Whether the injuries have changed their plans or not is another question.
What makes Zimmer such an enticing prospect is that there isn’t a part of his arsenal that doesn’t make him seem like a future top-of-the-rotation guy. Zimmer has a fast ball that can hit high-90s but settles in the mid-90s. That fast ball comes with a straight change, though it’s not as sharp as his fast ball. The separation at times can get as low as four miles an hour sometimes and that needs to be more in the 7-8 MPH range consistently to be a plus pitch. He does, however, feature both a curve ball and a slide, both already considered as plus-pitches. His curve ball is especially devastating and can fall off the table, which of course leads to a lot of his swings and misses. Like most developing pitchers, he gets to the point where he can lose control of any of his pitches. That said, he’s not walked a ton of batters at any point of his career so his control isn’t a real issue right now.
The injury is good and bad. Perhaps it delayed his innings clock so that would seem to be able to get him to the Majors by September 2014 if everything goes well. If the Royals decide to be extra cautious with their prized pitching prospect, though, it could leave him in the Minors until 2015. For those in re-draft leagues, there’s just no way to tell if he’ll be able to contribute this year. He has the pedigree and the stuff to rocket through the organization like Michael Wacha did with the Cardinals. Wacha needed just 93 innings between Double-A and Triple-A through parts of two seasons to get to the Majors. If Zimmer pitches like he can once he gets to Double-A, he could be in Triple-A by July and then it’s a matter of how the Royals want to proceed from there
If he does get to the Bigs in 2014, and with that fifth spot in the Royals rotation being such a question mark he just may be able to, he should be able to produce a low WHIP with a good strikeout rate. His ERA might be a little high because as he showed in High-A last year, he can leave the ball up at times and that leads to home runs. He gets a good home park to pitch out of though and that could make his ERA more than manageable.
This is a guy to keep an eye on for all of 2014. As soon as he gets the call to the Majors, he’s a must-add in any 16+ team league. Even if it’s out of the bullpen, he could give very good ratios and strikeouts. If it’s to the rotation, he’s a must-add in most mixed leagues. It’s possible Zimmer doesn’t get to the Royals until 2015 but whenever he does, it’s going to be worth the price of admission.
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