The Kansas City Royals gave us a little unexpected insight last week into the way they plan to handle pitching prospect Kyle Zimmer, reports Andy McCullough of The Kansas City Star. The information came courtesy of assistant general manager J.J. Picollo and basically put Zimmer on a schedule that would have him ready to reinforce the major league pitching staff this fall should the Royals be in a position where they are competing for a playoff spot. If this sounds familiar, it's because the Royals used the same approach with top prospect Yordano Ventura last season, David Hill of Kings of Kauffman points out. Ventura, you will remember, made a late-season cameo in the majors last season and is the frontrunner for the final rotation spot this spring.
The approach worked out well for Ventura and the Royals, so it makes sense that they would use the same plan on Zimmer, who is a year behind Ventura in the development process. The plan calls for Zimmer to start the year out slowly but to ramp things up as the summer progresses and still having innings left in his arm to pitch into the fall. Call it the anti-Strasburg approach.
Zimmer finished the 2013 season with a four-game stint in Double-A, suggesting that he will return there to begin the 2014 season. Last season actually got off to a rough start for Zimmer, who struggled at the onset despite being in pitcher-haven Wilmington, but he righted the ship in impressive fashion and finished with a flourish, including dominating during his time in Northwest Arkansas.
He was, however, shut down a few starts earlier than the Royals had planned due to shoulder stiffness. He was nearing their predetermined limit in August when his season ended, but it was the discomfort that ultimately finished things. By all accounts, Zimmer is healthy and ready to go this season, but it's still worth noting.
It also isn't a coincidence between the shoulder issue and the Royals desire to limit his innings and let him ramp up slowly into the new season. The goal for the Royals is to have Zimmer in their rotation for good in 2015, but they are also eyeing using him in some capacity down the stretch in their plan to compete this season.
Zimmer's schedule, however, will be dictated by his success. If he struggles at the beginning of the 2014 season the way he did in 2013, the Royals may not be able to push him along the way they hope. If he comes out and dominates Double-A the way he did last year, however, the Royals could find themselves using even more of his 2014 allotment of innings at the major league level than they had planned.