Kyle Zimmer’s Rise Evokes Memories Of Jesse Foppert

Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before.

Corner infielder at the University of San Francisco has a decent first couple of seasons. Breaks out as a sophomore as a pitcher in summer ball, throwing his fastball in the upper 90s.

Thursday, Aaron Fitt reported on Dons righthander Kyle Zimmer. As I read the piece, I couldn’t help but think of Jesse Foppert.

Zimmer has gotten more exposure on the mound at an earlier age, having thrown 92 innings for the Dons last season. His signature moment in 2011 was a regional shutout against UCLA, winning a duel with No. 1 overall pick Gerrit Cole. Then Zimmer dealt in the Cape Cod League, topping out at 97 mph. Now Zimmer is generating top-of-the-first-round buzz after hitting 99 mph and throwing strikes with his first 20 pitches in his season opener.

Foppert’s story is a bit different, but certainly Zimmer evokes Foppert, who was the Giants’ second-round pick in 2001. A recruited walk-on as a first baseman, Foppert didn’t pitch at USF as a freshman or sophomore, making his pitching conversion in the summer of the Valley League in 2000. Then he became one of the Dons’ top starters as a junior, going 8-4, 3.75 with 112 strikeouts in 98 innings. That year, the top pitchers in the WCC were Pepperdine’s Dan Haren and Noah Lowry, and only Lowry struck out more batters in the conference.

Foppert didn’t have a long pitching track record and still went out in the second round, as our scouting report at the time read in part, “The 6-foot-5, 215-pound righthander has touched 94 mph, though his heater loses its movement at that speed. He gets better life on his two-seamer. His slider has the potential to be a plus pitch, and he shows the makings of a reliable changeup.”

A year later, Foppert ranked as the No. 1 prospect in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League, and BA’s Jim Callis wrote, “The question isn’t how Foppert became the minors’ best mound prospect two years after becoming a full-time pitcher. That answer is apparent to everyone who saw him pitch this year. But how did this guy last 74 picks in the 2000 draft?”

Foppert led the minor leagues with 11.7 strikeouts per nine innings with 183 whiffs in 140 innings. He reached the majors the next season, tossing 101 innings, but had Tommy John surgery, and his stuff was never quite the same. He last pitched in Organized Baseball in 2009 at Double-A Connecticut for the Giants.

The Dons say they will handle Zimmer carefully early this season, keeping his innings and pitch counts low while building him up, in part because he’s still relatively new to pitching. He figures to go higher in the draft than Foppert because he has a longer track record, and now it seems he may go much higher than previously thought, as he keeps getting better.

Here’s hoping for a better ending for this surprising Dons ace than for the last one.

College | #2012 #Column

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