MLB.com’s number one prospect at midseason for the KC Royals is also everybody’s number one prospect heading into the 2014 season. Right-handed pitcher Kyle Zimmer was the Royals top pick in 2012 (fifth overall) but struggled to figure it out in 2013.
It took Zimmer until a string of starts from the end of June to the middle of July with High-A Wilmington. Those four starts (the final two of which included double-digit strikeout performances) FINALLY earned him a promotion to Double-A.
With NW Arkansas, his first two starts were dominant (both were six shutout innings). After a clunker and a two inning start, Zimmer was shut down with a minor arm issue.
Many wondered why Zimmer struggled with the Blue Rocks. His offspeed pitches were good and his fastball was electric. Problem was, teams started going to the plate only looking for the fastball and when it came, they hit it. Zimmer also had problems getting quick outs, evidenced by his seven starts of less than five innings (of his 18 starts in Wilmington).
What I loved about Zimmer (besides being media-friendly) was a statement he made after a high strikeout performance. “The strikeouts are nice, but I need to go deeper into games” (okay, I paraphrased). He struck out 11 on April 24th, but only lasted 4.2 innings. The media and the Royals were praising the performance (and every other high-strikeout start by any starter), but Zimmer wanted more. I like that mentality because so many in the Royals organization are SO in love with the strikeout, even if a starter cannot get through five innings. The strikeouts ARE nice, but give me a pitcher who can be solid over 6-7 innings any day.
One concern for me with Zimmer (besides his love of his fastball) is his splits with men on base. With the bases empty, opponents hit just .190 and he struck out 95 in 263 at-bats (compared to 19 walks). With runners on, opponents hit .287 in 143 at-bats. He struck out 45 compared to 17 walks.
Zimmer was invited to big league camp and will be given every opportunity to win a rotation spot. I think it will be a long shot, mainly because I think he needs more seasoning to become a complete pitcher. I want to see Zimmer be a great Major League pitcher for a long time. He doesn’t need to be rushed.
UPDATE: Zimmer was named today as MLB’s number ten top right-handed pitcher heading into the 2014 season. You can check out the entire list HERE.