Prospect Helium Watch – Kyle Zimmer
Kansas City Royals’ pitcher Kyle Zimmer’s path from college walk-on to his becoming a top prospect in baseball is a tale of a position change, hard work, and just enough serendipity to make it seem like a Hollywood script.
After primarily playing third base and first base in high school, Zimmer walked onto the baseball team, but the coaches had other ideas for him. The University of San Francisco Dons’ baseball team was already set a third base, with one of their best players, Sephen Yarrow, already manning the hot corner. The coaching staff had to convince the strong-armed Zimmer to give up being an every day position player, and make the move to the mound. After some discussion Zimmer made the move, though he only appeared in five games as a freshman, pitching 5.1 innings and putting up an 8.44 ERA. There was a silver lining, as Zimmer struck out seven batters, while allowing only eight hits and walking none.
In his sophomore season, Zimmer improved substantially, putting up a 3.73 ERA across 20 appearances (16 starts), with 89 strikeouts in 91.2 innings. In his junior season, Zimmer’s prospect status jumped significantly, as he put up a 2.85 ERA across 13 starts over 88.2 innings, fanning 104 (10.6/9). Zimmer was viewed as one of the top college pitchers available in the draft, with his prototypical size (6’3”, 215 lbs.), clean delivery, and mature pitching ability. With a fastball routinely hitting 95/96 and a hard curveball with true 12-6 break, many felt that Zimmer was the third best college pitcher in the draft, after potential #1 Mark Appel and Kevin Gausman. Baseball America ranked Zimmer #3 overall (ahead of Appel and Gausman) in their first Top 100, but then #6 (behind Appel and Gausman) in their Top 50 update. Baseball Prospectus ranked Zimmer #5, after Appel (#4) but before Gausman (#7).
After teams passed on Appel due to signability concerns and Gausman went #4 overall to the Baltimore Orioles, the Kansas City Royals took Zimmer with the #5 overall pick and they quickly agreed to a $3 million signing bonus. Zimmer was assigned to the Rookie level AZL Royals, where he made three starts, allowing only one run across 10.1 innings and striking out 13. In his final start, he pitched a lightning-shortened five inning complete game, allowing only two hits and striking out five. Zimmer was promoted to the Low-A Kane County Cougars, where he continued to dominate the competition. He made six starts across 29.2 innings, striking out 29 while allowing only eight earned runs. In a statistical anomaly that occasionally occurs in the minors, Zimmer allowed seven unearned runs. Despite allowing so many runs, Zimmer allowed a .367 BABIP and a 2.60 FIP, indicating that his stuff was indicative of his results.
After the season, Zimmer was consistently ranked in the top 50, including #47 by The Dynasty Guru, #41 by Baseball Prospectus, and #24 by Baseball America.
Zimmer was assigned to the High-A Wilmington Blue Rocks, where he started out well, striking out 16 in his first two starts, while only allowing five hits and walking two. After that, the wheels seemed to come off and Zimmer struggled for his next twelve starts, putting up a 6.79 ERA, and allowing a 285/367/439 slash line with a .369 BABIP. Despite his poor record, scouts were still positive about Zimmer’s potential and stuff, noting that his velocity was still there, as were his secondary pitches. On June 29, something seemed to turn on for Zimmer, as his next four starts were outstanding, going 25.1 innings, allowing a total of 14 hits, three walks, and five runs (all earned), while striking out 36 batters. Zimmer was then promoted to the AA Northwest Arkansas Naturals of the Texas League, where he immediately impressed, going six innings in each of his first two starts, allowing zero runs and only three hits per game, while striking out seven and 12 respectively. In his next start, Zimmer did not fare as well, allowing four runs, on only five hits and two walks, striking out eight batters. In his next start, Zimmer went only two no-hit innings before being pulled from the game and shut down for the season due to what the Royals’ organization called “minor shoulder stiffness.” Zimmer was only scheduled to make three more starts before returning to the University of San Francisco to take classes so that he could finish his degree. Zimmer finished the season with a total of 108.1 innings over 22 starts across two levels. More importantly, Zimmer did his best work at the end of the season, showing that his stuff could, and often did, dominate batters.
So what should we expect from Zimmer in 2014 and beyond? It’s doubtful that he would open the season in the major leagues, as his innings cap would probably somewhere near 150, and the Royals would want to use his time in the minors to manage his innings. Zimmer’s ETA in Kansas City is probably not before June 2014, and could not be until a September call-up.
As for his performance, Zimmer projects as a solid #2 pitcher, not out of line of the results of former Royals righthander Zack Greinke. While Zimmer may never have a season quite as good as Greinke’s 2009, an ERA around 3 with 170 strikeouts and a low WHIP is a reasonable expectation right out of the gate. In short, Zimmer is the perfect pitcher for a Dynasty league; a pitcher with a back of the rotation floor and a top of the rotation ceiling. Additionally, because he hasn’t had the buzz of fellow college-pitchers Kevin Gausman, Michael Wacha, or 2013 re-draftee Mark Appel, doesn’t have the ace potential of former high school teammates Max Fried and Lucas Giolito, and his season ended with a injury concerns, Zimmer may be cheaper to acquire than any of the other elitre players who are so close to making the majors.
In short, if you have Zimmer, hold onto him, and if you are looking to pick up a young, major league ready pitcher, Zimmer may be your man. In terms of value, I think he’s going to have just a good of a career as Gausman and Wacha, and his proximity to the majors and higher floor makes him more valuable than Fried and Giolito.
Until next time, @hypeprospect.