Kyle Zimmer, the snake-bitten, injury-prone right-hander still considered the finest pitching prospect in the Royals’ farm system, suffered a setback in an outing on Friday due to soreness in his surgically-repaired right shoulder. The Royals suspended his throwing program, which was supposed to culminate with Zimmer joining Class AA Northwest Arkansas on Sunday.
Instead, Zimmer will remain at the Royals’ complex in Arizona. Assistant general manager J.J. Picollo expressed his hope that Zimmer could resume throwing bullpen sessions next week and restart his program in extended-spring games soon after. But with Zimmer, the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft, little is considered guaranteed.
“He left the game the other day with some tightness,” Picollo said before Tuesday’s game against the Indians. “We think it’s just normal spring training soreness. As [team doctor Vincent] Key put it, if this is a guy with no history, he’s shut down for five to seven days and he picks it up again.”
Zimmer, 23, has a lengthy injury history. He has yet to complete a professional season without requiring surgery. He missed most of 2014 due to a strained latssimusi dorsi muscle. He underwent an operation to remove damaged tissue from his shoulder last October. The team did not invite him to big-league camp this past spring as he rehabilitated on the minor-league side.
Over the weekend, a follow-up examination of Zimmer’s shoulder revealed no structural damage, Picollo said. The team considered this encouraging.
Despite his various ailments, Zimmer still possesses a sizable ceiling. Baseball America rated him the No. 75 prospect in the game for 2015, after ranking him No. 23 in 2014 and No. 24 in 2013. Scouts who saw him during the Arizona Fall League rave about his arsenal.
The Royals cannot benefit from Zimmer’s talent until he manages to remain upright. The series of maladies has tested his patience and mental toughness, he has said. Picollo described Zimmer as distraught and confounded during a conversation they had the day after this most recent injury.
“He said, ‘I just don’t understand,’” Picollo said. “There’s nothing you can do. You’ve just got to keep working and keep moving forward.”
The club wanted Zimmer t0 throw 75 pitches in two separate outings before he earned an assignment to a full-season affiliate. He had reached a 50-pitch plateau when he experienced the soreness, Picollo said. Once he is cleared to resume throwing, Zimmer will start out throwing one or two innings at a time.
The Royals have downplayed Zimmer’s potential as a contributor in 2015. At this point, they would merely like to see him finish a season without incident.
“I’m hoping it does get until the middle of June,” Picollo said. “I’m hoping it’s just a couple weeks, that it puts him behind more than shuts him down.”