Kyle Zimmer’s Fast Track


A week ago, Paul Nielsen from NWAOnline shared a thought from Northwest Arkansas Naturals General Manager Eric Edelstein:

Kyle Zimmer.

You’ll recall that Kyle Zimmer was the fifth overall selection in the 2012 amateur draft. The new CBA moved the signing deadline up and Zimmer signed quickly anyway, just three days after the Royals selected him. After recovering from a hamstring injury, Zimmer made it into nine games and threw 39.2 innings, putting up a 42/8 K/BB ratio and 2.04 ERA in the Arizona Rookie League and at Kane County in Low A.

The plan all along was to get Zimmer ready for High A Wilmington to start 2013 but this is the first time I’ve heard of any hint of a plan or speculation about how fast he could rise to other levels, but I like the thought.

A plan like this would be aggressive for the Royals. Perhaps it’s a chicken-or-the-egg situation, but they’ve been patient in pushing prospects up the ladder, though some that they could have pushed up quickly have hit a wall at some level. Mike Montgomery stumbled in 2011 in Omaha. Chris Dwyer never really figured out Double A. Danny Duffy made his way to the big leagues in 2011, but it was after 1430 days in the organization after being drafted in 2007 out of high school. So the question comes to mind – are the Royals slow about bringing up their players (and, maybe, stunting their growth), or are the players coming up so slowly because they just aren’t that good?

In deciding on an answer to this question, I took a look at the drafts held under Dayton Moore’s era in Kansas City (including the 2006 draft which is officially not part of his tenure, but, c’mon) to see who had been drafted in the first five rounds who’s made it to the big leagues and how long after signing did it take them to reach the majors. The list (*=drafted out of college):

High school players start at lower levels and usually have a longer road to go, so it’s not surprising to see that they’ve spent more time in the minors, but it’s evident that the college pitchers in this group made it up faster. College players generally advance faster due to more advanced coaching, more experience, tougher competition and the age difference.

Also benefiting the college pitchers is the fact that they can be stashed in the bullpen to get some work as rookies, but not necessarily be called into action as a starter. Hochevar started out in the bullpen when he was first called up, making one start only out of four appearances. Crow and Coleman made quick jumps and are still in the bullpen. With that in mind, what could that mean for Zimmer’s path to the big leagues?

Wilmington has 26 games in April, so Zimmer could make four or five starts and, if Edelstein’s hunch is correct, could see Double A in May or late April. He can see a couple of months in Double A and one or two in Triple A (if he’s pitching well and healthy).

That’s aggressive, yes, but Zimmer turns 22 on September 13, the same age Duffy and Moustakas were for their debut and a year older than Hosmer. If he were called up in September, it would be 451 days after he signed his contract with the Royals. If he’s the pitcher the Royals think he can be, that’s not outrageous at all, and if they’re contending and could use his arm, he’d be the same age David Price was in 2008 when he debuted 13 months after being the first overall selection in the draft out of Vanderbilt. Trevor Bauer made his debut at the age of 21, less than a year after signing his contract. Dylan Bundy went from high school to the majors in just over a year.

Now Zimmer isn’t considered the super-prospect that Price, Bauer and Bundy are, but he’s still highly regarded. Price and Bundy were called up in the middle of playoff races, while Bauer’s debut was on June 28 while the Diamondbacks were 37-37.

Edelstein’s Zimmer speculation seems a bit fast on the surface, and for the Royals organization, maybe it is. But if Zimmer comes in and performs well in High A right away, it’s worth seeing what he can do at a tougher level, especially if there’s any hint that he can rise quickly through the system. My own hunch is that regardless of Zimmer’s production, he’ll go no farther than Triple A in 2013 and likely no higher than Double A.

After so many languishing pitching prospects who’ve either struggled on the mound or been hurt, maybe it’s time for some optimism, so here’s to hoping that Edelstein wasn’t optimistic about Zimmer’s 2013, but underselling it.