If you are like me and follow Minor League Baseball, than you may ask yourself the same question I do every season. Is this the year we understand who Kyle Zimmer really is?
You probably also ask yourself every year how Zimmer has remained a top three Kansas City Royals prospect all of this time, yet hasn’t been able to log a full season to show us much of that potential. Yup. I do too… every year.
The problem with Zimmer has never been his talent. The fifth overall pick in the 2012 MLB Draft has all the makings of a future ace. He stands at 6-foot-3, and tips the scales at 215 pounds. He has an easy delivery and four solid Major League pitches — highlighted by a mid-90's fastball with triple digit potential — that has garnered him consideration as one of the top pitching prospects in the game.
The problem is: pitchers have to pitch.
Zimmer has yet to play a full season in professional baseball. If there is a body part that can be injured, he seems to have found a way to injure it. Still, he enters this season as a Top 5 Royals prospect and still widely considered a Top 100 prospect in baseball, despite falling to the bottom tenth for the first time.
To say the 24-year old has had elbow issues would be a total understatement. He had bone chips removed from the elbow in 2012 and missed time in 2013 with elbow tendinitis. Then 2014 saw the beginning of the shoulder troubles. He made only six appearances in the 2014 regular season with a strained lat, but later revealed he was suffering from shoulder soreness. He would make an appearance later in 2014 in the Arizona Fall League, but not last very long. He was shut down and had surgery on that pesky shoulder.
Elbow and shoulder troubles before the age of 25? Not something you like to hear, but in the same sense, not the end of a career.
The Royals played it safe with Zimmer last season, especially after a minor setback in his shoulder recovery. They eased him back into things, not letting him take the mound until May and he spent much of the season in a "bullpen" role to limit his usage.
Zimmer began the season coming out of the pen, but most of his outings were two to three inning appearances. He looked comfortable for most of the early going, and with that smooth delivery he was able to throw strikes a majority of the time.
Here, he strikes out his fourth batter in a row in a June appearance:
He was back in the rotation again by August and pitched well over seven starts. He struck out 58 while walking just eight over his 31.2 innings as a starter, usually going four to five innings an outing. His best start came on August 28th, when he went five shutout innings of two-hit ball while striking out six and walking just one.
Here’s a little glimpse of a few strikeouts from that outing. I particularly like what has been described as his hammer curve:
The 2015 season certainly was encouraging for Royals fans, but when it comes to shoulder and elbow woes like Zimmer has gone through, you have to hold your breath and hope for a healthy season. The Royals kept him on their 40-man roster, so you would assume they will bring him to Spring Training and let him compete to make the big leagues in 2016. I personally would assume — with his late season return to the rotation — that it would be as a starter, but one only knows.
Does Zimmer have it in him to reach that potential or will his injury history see him fizzle out without much fanfare? I, for one, am truly hoping for the former.