Midwest League: Prospect Kyle Zimmer joins Cougars rotation
By Mike Knapp For Sun-Times Media July 30, 2012 5:20PM
Kane County's Kyle Zimmer, the Royals' No. 1 draft pick, got his first start with the team against the Wisconsin Timber Rattlers on Thursday. | Donnell Collins~For Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 1, 2012 6:16AM
When Kyle Zimmer was playing baseball in high school in Southern California, he thought his future was as a third baseman. Turns out, that was a case of mistaken identity.
Deep down Zimmer was a pitcher, but at the time he just didn’t know it. At the suggestion of coaches at the University of San Francisco, he moved to the mound his freshman season but tossed just five innings in his first year. Two years later, he had turned into one of the most sought-after pitchers in the country. In June, he was drafted in the first round (fifth overall) by the Kansas City Royals.
After three appearances with the Royals’ rookie team in Arizona, the 20-year-old right-hander made his first start for the Kane County Cougars Thursday. Though he took the loss against Wisconsin, he gave up one run in four innings while striking out five.
Now a part of the starting rotation, he will make his next start Tuesday in Beloit.
“It’s really exciting to be here,” Zimmer said. “It’s been a little hectic to sign right away and getting thrown into it. It’s been a lot of fun; it’s been great to get to know the players and the other people in the organization.”
Zimmer grew up outside San Diego and attended La Jolla High School, where he also played basketball and water polo. When he got to San Francisco, he found his path to the starting lineup at third was blocked by Stephen Yarrow, who at the time was a junior and now plays in the San Francisco Giants organization.
After watching him make some throws across the infield in practice, the Dons had Zimmer throw a couple of bullpen sessions and in intrasquad games, and the transition was complete.
“It was a long road,” he said. “I guess they saw some potential and decided to make me focus on pitching and it was a good decision in the long run.
“I was always a hitter growing up, and I never really thought about pitching. I’d never given it a chance until I got to college.”
Zimmer started to find his way onto scouts’ radar last season, and this past spring came into his own, going 5-3 with a 2.85 ERA — with his 104 strikeouts leading the West Coast Conference. His repertoire includes a four-seam fastball that reaches the mid-90s, a two-seam fastball he can run in on the hands of hitters on both sides of the box, a curve, slider and a changeup.
The publication Baseball America rated Zimmer’s fastball the best among collegiate prospects and his curveball third best among college pitchers.
The Royals, with whom Zimmer had begun forming a relationship last year, took all tense moments out of his draft day when they chose him so early in the first round. Zimmer accepted a $3 million signing bonus and wasted little time signing, inking his deal within days of the draft.
“I talked to the Royals all through the fall and during the season, and it’s a great organization and great people that I’m glad to be a part of it,” he said. “I wasn’t wanting to hold out for an extra buck or two, I was wanting to get going on with what will hopefully be a long career and show them I am ready to compete.”
After being slowed by a groin injury, he is fully healthy now and will be part of hard-throwing rotation that also includes Kyle Smith and Bryan Brickhouse, two top picks from the 2011 draft. The trio looks to pitch the Cougars to a berth in the Midwest League playoffs for the second straight year.
Zimmer is the fourth Top 5 overall pick to wear a Cougars uniform, joining Josh Booty (5th, 1994), Josh Beckett (2nd, 1999) and Adrian Gonzalez (1st, 2000).