2020 KC Royals season preview: Kyle Zimmer

(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
(Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images) /

This upcoming season should at least settle the question of whether Kyle Zimmer can ever become a productive major league pitcher for the KC Royals.

Welcome back to the Kings of Kauffman 2020 KC Royals season previews. We are working our way through 30 different Royals that fans will likely see during the 2020 season. We will take a look at their previous season, some expectations for 2020, and any other pertinent information. This time, we are looking at Kyle Zimmer.

What did he offer last season?

Ultimately, not much. 2019 was a return to professional pitching for Kyle Zimmer after missing all of 2018. Over 54 innings in AAA he struck out 52. In just over 18 innings of Major League Baseball, he struck out 18. This would seem to suggest he still has some major league stuff.

Zimmer also, however, averaged 5.5 walks per 9 innings in AAA last season. He walked 19 batters over his 18 major league innings. Striking out nearly a batter per inning is great. But not if you are issuing a free pass right after each strikeout.

His fastball still averaged almost 97 MPH in 2019. Knowing exactly where that fastball is going will be the issue for Kyle Zimmer moving forward.

Zimmer would ultimately end 2019 with an ERA in AAA of 4.33. Not a terrible number considering that the Pacific Coast League was almost a home run derby in last season. Nothing we saw in 2019 would require the KC Royals to write off Zimmer for 2020. But skepticism about his ability to throw strikes is reasonable.

What should we expect in 2020?

Here are the stat line projections for Zimmer’s 2020 season from both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs:

B-Ref:  34 IP, 5.56 ERA, 34 K, 16 BB

FG:  50 IP, 4.89 ERA, 47 K, 27 BB

Thus far, it is unclear whether Zimmer ever will produce at the major league level. Although every indication and projection would seem to acknowledge that striking guys out will not be an issue for Kyle Zimmer.  That is a good starting point to build from.

He is still a 28-year-old with a 97 MPH fastball that has demonstrated an extreme level of mental and physical toughness. Having to battle through some command issues after missing an entire season of baseball maybe even should be expected.

In 2019 Zimmer walked more than one batter per inning.  Every projection has him cutting that obscene number in half. I would argue that if he can maintain his strikeouts and get his walks under 4 per 9 innings, we can begin to see the makings of a major league reliever. If he ever regains his full control of his fastball and gets back to throwing his secondary pitches with confidence he could even grow into a late-inning guy we can count on.

The verdict

By now, every fan of the KC Royals knows the story of Kyle Zimmer. He was once a top prospect within the organization that possessed a fastball that hit 98 MPH, a good changeup, and a killer curveball. Sadly, nearly all his professional career has been spent battling injuries.

Zimmer has suffered through elbow surgery, shoulder tightness, biceps injuries, lat muscle injuries, rotator cuff injuries, shoulder surgery, Thoracic Outlet Syndrome surgery, and that is not even a comprehensive list of all the injuries he has had to battle back from. There are many questions surrounding Kyle Zimmer at this point in his career. His toughness, however, is not something anyone can question.

I also think the Royals deserve some credit when it comes to the handling of Zimmer. The organization was very patient with his physical issues over the years. They never gave up on him. And once it became clear that he was never going to be a starting pitcher, they moved him up as a reliever to see if he can still produce. I think that he can. And it would be wonderful to see the organization’s patience pay off with Zimmer striking out opposing hitters in high leverage spots in 2020.

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There is still major league talent here and possibly the makings of a nice bullpen piece. Kyle Zimmer has overcome incredible obstacles to make it this far. He is now on the precipice of the professional success for which he has worked tirelessly. But, for any of that to happen, Zimmer must regain his control. And 2020 may very well be his last chance to prove he can do that as a member of the KC Royals.