By Peter Wardell
Editor’s note: Baseball America intern Peter Wardell hit the road last week to get a look at San Francisco ace Kyle Zimmer and Camarillo (Calif.) High lefthander Hunter Virant, who took the mound at Oxnard. He filed this report.
Kyle Zimmer, rhp, San Francisco
Zimmer has been one of the hottest names among draft circles this spring. Over 46 innings, the Dons junior is 2-2, 2.14 with a 51-7 strikeout-walk rate. In just a couple of months, he’s gone from a presumed late first-rounder or supplemental pick to a strong candidate for the top overall selection.
Following a pair of complete game shutouts the past two weekends against Hawaii and UC Santa Barbara, Zimmer took the mound Friday against No. 24 San Diego on Friday in front of a dozen scouts and even a couple GMs. While the Toreros did knock around the La Jolla native for four runs on 10 hits over 7 1/3 innings, Zimmer impressed, displaying solid command and composure and flashing dominance, finishing the contest with six strikeouts and just one walk.
Zimmer utilizes four pitches, all of which have the potential to rate as above-average offerings. His fastball sat 92-94, touching 96 mph, with decent life. The pitch flattens out at times up in the zone, but overall Zimmer commands it well, working both sides of the plate and challenging hitters. His curveball came in 79-81 with sharp, 11-to-5 break, and already rates as a solid out pitch. It has hard falling-off-the-table drop, drawing lots of swings and misses.
In addition, Zimmer mixed in a changeup and slider, both of which lacked consistency but showed flashes of great promise. His changeup was deceptive, sitting 83-85, with good arm speed and a little fade. He threw it for strikes, often with the first pitch of the at-bat. His slider, however, wasn’t very sharp, coming in 85-86 and hanging multiple times. In the fourth inning, San Diego catcher Dillon Haupt took advantage with an opposite-field home run.
Outside of his pure stuff, Zimmer looked very composed on the mound, displaying impressive makeup. After allowing a double and single to start the second inning, he settled down, striking out the following batter and inducing a 6-4-3 double play to end the frame.
Zimmer displays sound mechanics and a smooth, repeatable arm action. He’s an athletic 6-foot-4, 220-pounder, and is physically mature with strong, thick legs and broad shoulders.
“He’s a guy that will be able to eat innings,” said an AL scout who was on hand. “Even if he doesn’t become a front-of-the-rotation starter, he’ll be a solid No. 3 or No. 4 that can give you 200-plus (innings) in a season. That’s extremely valuable.
“He’s a special pitching prospect. There’s little to no risk with this guy.”
Hunter Virant, lhp, Camarillo (Calif.) High
Last March, Virant pitched a perfect game against league opponent Rio Mesa (Oxnard, California). In a rematch last Tuesday, the UCLA commit was dominant yet again, allowing two runs on six hits, striking out 13 and walking two in a complete-game 7-2 victory.
Virant’s fastball came in 88-91, with good arm-side run. It didn’t draw a ton of swing-and-misses but showed enough movement to keep hitters from squaring it up. His control lapsed at times, as he occasionally overthrew the pitch, but overall he commanded it well. His changeup sat 77-79 and rates as one of the best in the California draft crop. It has good life, terrific deception and projects as a plus offering. Virant also features a pair of breaking balls: a slow, 12-to-6 curveball with tight rotation at 70-72 mph, and an inconsistent but occasionally sharp slider at 79-81. Virant struggles with the release point on his curveball but with some cleaning up could turn it into a solid pitch.
Listed at 6-foot-3, 170 pounds, Virant has a lean, athletic frame with plenty of room for projection. He has a loose, easy arm action and figures to add a couple more ticks to his fastball as he matures.
While he often gets lost in the shuffle behind highly regarded Southern California high school arms Lucas Giolito and Max Fried, Virant too will garner first-round interest this June.