As members of the Royals brass looked on, Kyle Zimmer stepped on a pitcher’s mound on late Friday morning, toeing the rubber as a large throng of fans crowded around the chain-link backstop behind Field 4 at the Royals spring training complex.
Zimmer, the Royals’ top pitching prospect, was set to throw 30 pitches in a live batting practice session against a group of veteran hitters, including Alex Gordon, Salvador Perez and Mike Moustakas. As Zimmer prepped to throw, the audience included assistant general manager J.J. Picollo and senior pitching advisor Bill Fischer. The throwing session, Zimmer’s second of the spring, went as planned — except for an errant curveball that plunked Perez in the back.
“He was making fun of me, so I thought I’d get back at him with a floating curveball,” Zimmer joked. “That was the plan. Nah, that just slipped out a little bit.”
This spring training will likely serve as a key showcase for Zimmer, a 24-year-old former first-round pick who finally has a clean bill of health after years of battling injuries. The latest setback came last May, when Zimmer experienced soreness in his shoulder during an extended-spring training outing. The ailment slowed Zimmer’s return after undergoing minor surgery on his rotator cuff at the end of 2014.
But he finished the 2015 season at Class AA Northwest Arkansas, posting a 2.81 ERA with 51 strikeouts in 48 innings of work. More important: He finished the season on the mound and returned home to southern California in a positive state of mind.
“It was great,” Zimmer said. “To get through a whole year, finish healthy. To be able to go home to San Diego and sort of just relax for a little while, and have a full offseason for the first time in a few years was great.”
In the offseason, Zimmer said, he kept a low-profile. He did make one tweak to his pitching repertoire, altering the grip on his slider. The pitch, Zimmer says, is now closer to a cutter and will be paired with his fastball, curveball and change-up.
On Friday, Zimmer’s workout was short. He will be stretched out more as camp continues. But no matter his performance here, he is likely headed back to the minors to log innings as a starter. But for the moment, Zimmer says, he is throwing without any issues, which is a solid place to start.
“They keep telling us to control our efforts really early on,” Zimmer said. “You don’t want to blow anything out in February. So I was trying to take it a little bit easier today, get through my mechanics.”