When Zimmer got his zap
By Josh Jackson / MiLB.com
This offseason Josh Jackson is looking at some of the top prospects who prepared for professional ball by spending time in a collegiate wood bat league, considering how those summers got them ready for the Draft and future success in the Minors.
Kyle Zimmer is ranked as the top prospect in the Royals system but hasn’t always been considered a talented pitcher. In fact, Zimmer never even thought of himself as a hurler until college. He pitched a little but primarily played third base for his La Jolla, Calif. high school team, and not only did he go undrafted, but he didn’t even get any scholarship offers. The coaching staff at the University of San Francisco noticed Zimmer’s strong arm, though, and he headed north as a walk-on. There, Zimmer had to accept another lump: he wasn’t going to see playing time as a third baseman. At the urging of the USF coaching staff, he agreed to give it a go on the mound.
In 2010, his freshman year, he went without a decision but suffered his way through five relief appearances, putting up an 8.44 ERA.
In a wood-bat summer circuit, Zimmer — then still 18 years-old — found his groove. He reported to the Alexandra (Va.) Aces in the Cal Ripken Collegiate League, and he got to work transforming himself. He began a rigorous strength-building routine, and by the time he made the All-Star team that summer, he was listed at 200 pounds. (He’s now listed at 215). His added velocity and focus on learning to pitch paid off immediately. He had a 1.56 ERA and 32 strikeouts over 10 games — seven of them starts — and ended up 2-2 with a save.
“That’s when I started to believe [the conversion to pitcher] would work,” Zimmer told the San Francisco Chronicle.
When he returned to the mound for USF his sophomore year, he was a different (and vastly improved) pitcher. He led the Dons with 89 strikeouts, which he amassed over 91 2/3 innings. He was 6-4 with a 3.73 ERA, and one of his victories was a complete-game shutout.
The performance was enough to get him a spot on the roster of the Cotuit Kettleers in the elite Cape Cod League.
If the Cal Ripken Collegiate League convinced Zimmer that he could pitch, his time on the Cape convinced the rest of the baseball world. Facing the best college hitters in the country, Zimmer struck out 37 and had a 3.37 ERA over 10 games, eight starts.
“Kyle has got a chance. He is one of those guys who has got a chance to pitch in the big leagues,” longtime Cotuit manager Mike Roberts told Andrew Brooks of the Living the Dream blog after one game.
Back at USF his junior year in 2012, Zimmer went 5-3 with a 2.85 ERA and 104 strikeouts compared to 17 walks. Kansas City grabbed him with the fifth overall pick that summer.