KANSAS CITY -- The Royals, eager to upgrade their pitching rotation quickly, made collegiate right-hander Kyle Zimmer their first-round choice in Monday night's First-Year Player Draft. The organization believes Zimmer can get to the Major Leagues quickly.
Zimmer, 20, from the University of San Francisco, was made the fifth choice in the Draft that captured a national TV audience with Commissioner Bud Selig announcing the choices. Zimmer was the second pitcher selected.
"I'm pretty speechless," Zimmer said. "I'm very excited to be part of such a great organization, and just looking forward to the opportunity."
Zimmer had been forecast as the Royals' likely choice by MLB.com.
This season for the 29-30 Dons, Zimmer had a 5-3 record and 2.85 ERA in 13 starts, with three complete games. He racked up 104 strikeouts against just 17 walks in 88 1/3 innings, holding opponents to a .230 average. Baseball America rated his fastball as the best and his curveball as third-best among college pitchers.
Royals director of scouting Lonnie Goldberg believes Zimmer's arrival at Kauffman Stadium will be rather quick.
"I think he's got the talent to pitch up here right now," Goldberg said. "But he's got a lot of seasoning he's got to get through. My guess is his talent and his makeup will allow him to get here when he needs to, but I'd say within two or three years."
Zimmer was primarily a third baseman at La Jolla (Calif.) High School but found that position blocked at USF and was converted to a pitcher as a freshmen. In his sophomore year, he had a 6-5 record and 3.73 ERA. Meanwhile, he grew from 6-feet-2 and 185 pounds to his present 6-4 and 220 as a junior. Meanwhile, the Royals were tracking his progress.
"We got a guy we think is a front-of-the-rotation starter, something that we wanted to make sure we attacked in the Draft," Goldberg said. "Our guys on the West Coast and our area scout, Max Valencia, and especially Danny Ontiveros, our West Coast cross-checker, did a heck of job, not only identifying the player, but getting to know the player."
Zimmer played last year in the Cape Cod League, which he believes accelerated his development as a pitcher. He's been compared in some circles with Matt Cain, the Giants' big right-hander.
"I played in Cape Cod last summer, and I think I got a good feel for some great competition -- some guys that were taken here also in the first round. So I think I'm physically and mentally ready to take that next step," Zimmer said.
At one point this season, Zimmer had to overcome a strained hamstring.
"I sort of tweaked it fielding a bunt, and then I pitched through it for a few more starts. I didn't really get to rest it that much," he said. "But I was at home just resting it this last week, and it's feeling great. I did a pretty heavy workout on it yesterday, and it's feeling fine today, so I'm looking forward to getting out there and making pitches."
Despite the injury and despite the surprising availability of Mark Appel, the Stanford pitcher projected as the Draft's top pick, the Royals were focused on Zimmer.
"He still competed and he still had success. The hamstring wasn't an issue," Goldberg said. "He was the No. 1 pitcher on our board, and I think it's important that everybody knows that. He's our guy, he's the guy we wanted, he's the guy we targeted, and we feel real lucky he was there."
Zimmer, who prides himself on his work ethic, was asked if it was true that he has sort of a mean streak on the mound.
"On the mound, I feel like I'm a pretty huge competitor, and off the field, I'm a pretty easy-going, relaxed, jokester kind of guy," he said. "But when I get on the mound, I figure it's a little different, and I turn into that competitive mode and have sort of an animalistic approach, I guess, and get after it."
The Royals saw Zimmer's limited background as a pitcher as a plus.
"We're looking at a guy who's got a big league body right now, is able to command four pitches, has a plus breaking ball, and the scary part for us is we think he's still got a huge ceiling left in him," Goldberg said. "You're looking at a fresh arm, a young kid who's only 20 years old, will be 21 in September."
The Royals' pick came after the Astros began the Draft with a surprise by taking 17-year-old Puerto Rico shortstop Carlos Correa. The Twins took outfielder Byron Buxton from Appling County (Ga.) High School as the second choice. At No. 3, the Mariners selected University of Florida catcher Mike Zunino. The first pitcher didn't go until the Orioles made LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman the fourth pick.
"There were some surprises in there, but nothing we weren't prepared for," said J.J. Picollo, the Royals' assistant general manager, scouting and player development.
Now, of course, comes the next step: Working out a contract with Zimmer and his adviser, Mark Pieper. The Royals, in the new slotting system, can pay up to $3.5 million to sign their first-round choice.
"His dad was a player, his mother was an athlete, his brother has a chance to be a top pick in a couple years. This is a family that's gifted in a lot of ways, and he's a perfect fit for us," general manager Dayton Moore said.
The pitcher's father, Eric Zimmer, was a pitcher-outfielder at UC-San Diego, and his younger brother, Bradley, is an outfielder who was drafted by the Cubs out of high school and is now playing at USF.
Kyle Zimmer was asked if he's the best athlete in his family.
"Of course," he said.