The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Sports

August 24, 2013

Royals cautious with top pitching prospect

SPRINGDALE, Ark. —  When Kyle Zimmer complained of shoulder stiffness after the second inning of his Double-A start against Corpus Christi, Northwest Arkansas manager Brian Poldberg quickly pulled the Kansas City Royals’ No. 1 prospect from the game.

Never mind that he had delivered two hitless innings, reached 96 mph on his fastball and showed good command by throwing 15 of his 23 pitches for strikes.

The Royals organization believes it possesses something special in the 6-foot-3 right-hander and wants to do everything possible to assure Zimmer will soon be tossing those upper-90 mph heaters at Kauffman Stadium. On Aug. 16 — two days after his outing against Corpus Christi — the Royals elected to shut Zimmer down, essentially ending his first full season in professional baseball about a month early.

With Zimmer’s complaints of “stiffness” combined with him eclipsing 100 innings pitched, Royals assistant general manager of scouting and player development J.J. Picollo said the organization didn’t want to leave anything to chance.

“We want to err on the side of caution,” he said. “Structurally, everything is sound. All the medical exams checked out. There is no concern that it is an injury. It’s just fatigue. It was a tough decision and not one he liked, but he went along with us … We’re looking at it long term.”

Because long term, scouts think the 2012 No. 5 overall pick could be a major league ace.

“There are a lot of pitchers who have good stuff, but there aren’t a lot of pitchers with good stuff who are as athletic, intelligent, competitive and have the work ethic Kyle does,” Picollo said. “There’s a comforting feeling knowing he’s in our organization. We feel he has a lot of things going for him.”

Zimmer struggled early at High-A Wilmington, but scouts pointed to Zimmer’s potential.

“I’ve talked to scouts from outside the organization and even when he was struggling, they said they wanted him because his stuff was that good,” said J.J. Cooper, a writer and editor for Baseball America..

Zimmer was allowing big innings when he pitched out of the stretch. Changing his release point, deception was added to Zimmer’s pitches. The results quickly followed.

After finishing 4-8 with a 4.82 ERA in 18 starts at Wilmington, Zimmer realized his potential after a promotion to Double A. In four starts with the Northwest Arkansas Naturals, Zimmer was 2-1 with a 1.93 ERA. He recorded 27 strikeouts in only 18 2/3 innings. In a win over the Springfield Cardinals, Zimmer fanned 12 batters in six innings.

“Right now you’d say he’s one of the best pitching prospects in the minors and has a chance to be a front-line starter in the big leagues before too long,” Cooper said.

But the Royals continue to proceed with caution. Picollo said Zimmer will likely start the 2014 season back in Double-A.

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