The Royals’ complex in Surprise, Ariz., is a relatively barren place this time of year, populated a handful of rehabilitating players. The days are long, the sun is blazing, and if you’re Kyle Zimmer, the team’s top pitching prospect, there is little to do.
“He’s probably just going stir-crazy,” assistant general manager J.J. Picollo said.
Zimmer, a 22-year-old right-hander and the No. 5 pick in the 2012 draft, was shut down at the end of May because of a muscle strain in the back of his right shoulder. He is expected to resume his throwing program around July 15, but an entire year of his development appears lost.
The case has frustrated Royals officials. Zimmer cut his throwing program short last winter because of soreness in his shoulder. The team’s medical staff diagnosed him with biceps tendinitis and held him out for the duration of spring training.
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Tabbed to debut in Class AA in late May, he felt his latissimus dorsi muscle tighten up during his first live outing against hitters. When his condition did not improve, the team prescribed him six to eight weeks of rest.
Heading into this year, the Royals projected Zimmer to contribute at the major-league level in September. Now, they are discussing how to maximize his innings in the instructional leagues and in October’s Arizona Fall League.
“That’s the most realistic thing,” Picollo said. “If there are signs that he can do some things quicker, then we don’t have many games left in the minor leagues.”
The team would consider sending Zimmer to a winter-ball league in the Caribbean, but Picollo suggested that was less than likely.
“For a guy that doesn’t have that much pro experience, and he’s coming off an injury, I don’t want to say we wouldn’t consider that,” Picollo said. “I think it would have to be the right situation, a club that we know well, somebody that we know as the pitching coach.
“And we have kicked it around. But his timetable fits more for the Arizona Fall League than winter ball.”
Picollo estimated Zimmer could log 40 innings “at the very most” during the fall. The Royals had hoped Zimmer would compete for a spot in the starting rotation heading into 2015. Now, they are debating how many innings he could even throw.
“Some of it depends on where he’s at,” Picollo said. “If he’s at Class AA or Class AAA, then you can dictate it a little more. If he’s here, if you’re in the heat of the battle, in some kind of pennant race, it’s hard not to pitch those guys.”