As the Royals open their spring training schedule Wednesday, club officials will get an early evaluation of top pitching prospect Kyle Zimmer.
Royals manager Ned Yost said Saturday that Zimmer is set to start the Cactus League opener against the Texas Rangers at 2:05 p.m. Wednesday at Surprise Stadium.
Yost called it less of a reward and more of an audition.
“It’s more of, ‘Hey, you’re getting close, let’s see if you can help us,’ ” Yost said. “We’ll give you an opportunity to compete. He’s healthy, we’ll give him some starts down here and see what we’ve got.”
Zimmer is pumped about the opportunity.
“It’s obviously a great honor to be able to go out there to run out of the dugout with the team on the first game since they celebrated on the field in New York,” Zimmer said. “It’s an exciting time to be a Royal and hopefully it won’t be my only start. Hopefully we’ll be doing this again later in September and October when it really matters.”
After Zimmer, the Royals’ rotation will take on a more familiar feel. Edinson Volquez will start Thursday against Texas; Yordano Ventura will start Friday night against San Diego in Peoria, Ariz.; Ian Kennedy will start Saturday against the White Sox in Surprise; Chris Young will start Sunday against the the Angels in Tempe; and right-hander Kris Medlen will start a split-squad game next Monday against the Cubs in Mesa. The same day, Zimmer will turn around and start against the Athletics in Mesa.
Zimmer, 24, entered big-league camp after finishing last season at Class AA Northwest Arkansas. A former first-round pick in 2012, Zimmer possesses high-ceiling upside, according to scouts and observers, but his early career has been beset by a rash of injuries. After returning from minor shoulder surgery last season, he posted a 2.39 ERA with 72 strikeouts in 64 innings at Class A Lexington and Class AA Northwest Arkansas.
“I’ve never seen the kid healthy, really,” Yost said. “All the reports you get are his stuff is as good as (Yordano) Ventura’s and I want to see him healthy. I want to see him pitch.”
Zimmer said the approach will be even-keel.
“I’m not going to try and amp myself up too much,” Zimmer said of his start on Wednesday. “Just try to take it like any other game. It’s early in spring training. They’ve told me, ‘Don’t go out there and try to do too much or pretend like you’re in midseason form. Nobody is. Just go out there and throw strikes and have fun.’ That’s what I’m going to try and do.”
Yost said left-hander Danny Duffy, who is being stretched out as a starter, will piggy-back Kennedy on Saturday against the White Sox. Right-hander Miguel Almonte will piggy-back Volquez on Thursday against the Rangers.
The rest of the early pitching schedule shapes up like this: On Wednesday, Zimmer will be followed by a list of options that includes Chien-Ming Wang, David Huff, Peter Moylan, Scott Alexander, John Lannan, Brian Duensing, Ross Ohlendorf and Aroni Nina.