The Royals have heard all the accolades of their pitching prospects in recent years. A series of "can't-miss" pitchers have not lived up to expectations -- Mike Montgomery, John Lamb, Danny Duffy and Chris Dwyer, just to name a few. Each was expected to help transform Kansas City's pitching staff into a dominant one. But to date, expectations have not been met. In fact, Montgomery must find his way with the Rays instead of the Royals, having been traded in a deal for James Shields.
Industry experts have voiced similar high expectations regarding right-hander Kyle Zimmer. He has the upside of a starter capable of giving his team consistent, long outings by using a full repertoire of four quality pitches with good command.
A lengthy injury history may be the only obstacle. Zimmer has experienced a variety of career interruptions, including biceps tendinitis, surgery to remove bone chips and a lingering groin strain that cost him development time.
Zimmer was an outstanding hitter at La Jolla (Calif.) High School. He played first base and third base in addition to pitching. Zimmer hit .410 in his senior year with four home runs and 23 RBIs.
A crowded third-base roster at University of San Francisco sent Zimmer to the mound to continue his development as a pitcher. The Royals felt that was where Zimmer could offer their organization their best chance for success. And so his conversion to the mound was underway.
After having been selected with their first-round pick in the 2012 First-Year Player Draft, Zimmer pitched at two classifications for Kansas City in his rookie season. He began in the Arizona Rookie League during the summer where he threw 10 innings. Zimmer was sent to Class A Kane County and completed another 29 2/3 innings, pitching to a composite 2.04 ERA in his first year. He made nine starts. Zimmer's WHIP was 1.18 and he averaged fewer than two walks per nine innings while striking out and average of 9.5 hitters per nine.
Last season, Zimmer pitched at Class A Advanced Wilmington and Double-A Northwest Arkansas. His command and control again served as the cornerstone for his success.
Zimmer is the No. 1 Royals prospect as ranked by MLB.com.
Zimmer has a great pitcher's frame at 6-foot-3, 215 pounds. Only 22, he may have a bit more growth and strength ahead.
Zimmer's greatest asset is his clean and uncomplicated delivery. Using the gifts of a fine athlete and the mind of a scholar, he combines his physical attributes and his intelligence to outsmart hitters with refined command. Zimmer throws strikes and knows how to pitch. He thinks ahead and uses a complete arsenal of a fastball (92-98 mph), curveball, changeup and slider to navigate a lineup. Zimmer is not intimidated or taken out of his comfort zone by better hitters.
The sink and movement Zimmer gets on his pitches is crucial to his success. While he gets plenty of swings and misses, he induces ground balls as well.
Because he has such good command of all his pitches, Zimmer has to be careful not to get too much of the plate -- especially with his fastball.
Zimmer has the strength and stamina to work late into games. Provided he paces himself, he will be able to preserve the bullpen by throwing strikes and being economical.
If things fall into place as his potential suggests, Zimmer could become a leader on the Royals' staff. He can sequence his repertoire a pitch at a time and finish off hitters with any of his offerings. But it is Zimmer's slider that may miss the most bats, once that pitch is totally developed. By repeating his delivery and using a consistent arm slot, Zimmer will fool lots of batters with movement on virtually every pitch.
Provided he remains healthy, Zimmer could likely be on the mound in Kansas City later this season. He may well meet the high expectations placed upon him to become a quality homegrown pitching prospect.
Bernie Pleskoff has served as a professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners. Follow @BerniePleskoff on Twitter.