The Royals came into spring training this year with a pretty good idea of who would serve in the rotation to begin the year, but with many question marks in the bullpen. Long gone are the days of “HDH”, and with Greg Holland in Colorado and Wade Davis pitching in Wrigley, the Royals will have to find new power arms to have a vaunted shut-down bullpen.
Kyle Zimmer has long been touted as having the best stuff in the entire organization, but we have seen precious little of what he is capable of due to a ridiculous list of injuries. Here is a timeline:
July 2012 - Royals draft Kyle Zimmer
August 2012 - Zimmer undergoes elbow surgery to remove loose bodies
August 2013 - Zimmer is shut down for the year due to bicep tendonitis
May 2014 - Zimmer is sidelined with a strained right latissimus dorsi
October 2014 - Zimmer has surgery on his right shoulder
May 2015 - Zimmer's comeback is delayed after experiencing soreness in his shoulder
May 2016 - Zimmer leaves outing after one inning due to fatigue
July 2016 - Zimmer has thoracic outlet syndrome surgery
The result is just 84 innings pitched over the last three seasons combined.
Zimmer has been healthy through the first two weeks of camp so far, and there is hope that maybe, possibly, hopefully, he is finally healthy enough for a full season of baseball. If he is, could he end up helping the Royals? In what capacity?
Seeing as how Zimmer has thrown very few innings, it would probably make sense to allow him to slowly build his innings back up as a reliever. Going from 5 2⁄3 innings last year to 160+ would be tempting fate when it comes to Zimmer’s arm.
Ned Yost replied, “why not?” when Rustin Dodd asked if Zimmer had a chance to serve in the Royals pen this year.
If he remains a starter, Zimmer is probably ticketed for a spot in the rotation at Class AAA Omaha. Still, the Royals appear intrigued by the possibility of using Zimmer’s power stuff out of the bullpen. Once a highly touted prospect, Zimmer’s stock has dipped in recent years. But when he is healthy, club officials maintain that he has one of the most dynamic arsenals in the organization.
“We’re looking at him right now probably as a starter,” Yost said. “But can he fit in our pen? Yeah. Down the road? Sure.”
And Zimmer seems open to the idea.
"I got no clue," Kyle Zimmer said regarding his role this year. "If it's coming out of the bullpen, I'd love to 'get it on' for an inning."— Josh Vernier (@JoshVernier610) March 4, 2017
Zimmer brings an arsenal that includes a mid-to-high 90s fastball, a hammer curve, and a decent change up. I mean, if you’re looking for a pitcher with pure filth coming out of the pen, you could do a lot worse than this.
Trying to finish my Royals top 60 prospects and I just keep watching this Kyle Zimmer GIF instead... pic.twitter.com/w3UbnIVkUZ— Shaun Newkirk (@Shauncore) February 28, 2016
Legendary Orioles manager Earl Weaver was a big proponent of breaking in rookie pitchers in the bullpen, calling it one of his “Laws” in his book Weaver on Strategy.
"I believe young pitchers have to serve an apprenticeship, both for their own good and for the good of the team....Not only is this first year a learning process for the pitchers, it's a learning process for the manager. The manager doesn't know what the pitcher can do in the majors. He has an idea and makes judgments about his talent, but a manager must see the pitcher in game conditions. When the manager puts a rookie pitcher into a game and the rookie comes through a few times, the manager begins evaluating."
It was a strategy later used to develop Johan Santana, Adam Wainwright, and Chris Sale. Even the Royals used it to an extent with Brandon Finnegan. It is a strategy they may use for several rookie pitchers this year, including Matt Strahm and Josh Staumont.
Zimmer struggled against the Rangers in his first spring outing, giving up a home run to Ryan Rua, but he looked sharp in his last outing, a 1-2-3 performance against the Giants. Zimmer is probably set to begin the year in Omaha, but he may not be there long. The Royals probably expected him to be contributing at the big league level far sooner than this, and at age 25 (he’s older than Royals outfielder Jorge Soler) the clock is ticking. If he can just stay on the mound, he could be in the Royals bullpen very soon. And if the Royals want to have the kind of dominant bullpen that took them to two pennants, they will need him.