Kyle Zimmer, a right-hander considered one of the jewels of the Royals farm system, is scheduled to throw his first bullpen session of the season next week, beginning a progression that could deliver him to the major leagues by September.
The Royals intend to keep Zimmer in extended spring training until the third week of May, assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said on Friday afternoon. Zimmer will start the season at Class AA Northwest Arkansas, where he posted a 1.93 ERA in four starts in 2013. The team projects him to pitch between 130 and 150 innings. He threw 108 1/3 last season.
“If he factors in with our big-league club, he’s probably going to be more at the 150 mark,” Picollo said.
With this plan, the team juggled a pair of competing desires. They hope Zimmer can contribute to a pennant race in September. They also need to keep him healthy, and position him to compete for a full-time position in the rotation for 2015.
Zimmer, the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft, only made four starts at Class AA because he developed a case of biceps tendinitis. The condition returned when he attempted to throw in December. Team doctors deemed his arm free of structural damage, but still shut him down. When he reported to camp, he did not throw a baseball until Feb. 26.
Zimmer pitched well enough in 2013 that the organization was pondering calling him up later that season. Considering Zimmer’s innings limit for 2014, the organization faced a choice.
“It’s just way, which way to do you want to skin the cat?” Picollo said. “Do you want to cut him short at the end, or cut him short at the beginning? So we just chose the beginning so we have him available at the end if he’s pitching that well.”
So he will remain in Surprise for at least another eight weeks. The team will not put him in a regular-season game until his pitch count expands to 75. Then they will see if his race to the top will continue.
“Truthfully, it is the cautious way to go,” Picollo said. “But this guy is a long-term guy for us.”