Just a week into college baseball's season, scouts in the West are starting to chatter about San Francisco junior righthander Kyle Zimmer as a legitimate early candidate for the No. 1 overall pick. Expect scouts to flock to USF on Friday for Zimmer's matchup against dogged Missouri junior righty Eric Anderson.
USF's season opener at San Jose State last week was originally scheduled for 6 p.m. at San Jose Municipal Stadium, but the San Jose Giants were reseeding the field so the game had to be moved to Blethen Field and rescheduled for 2 p.m. That allowed the multitude of scouts who were in the area to see Stanford ace Mark Appel that evening to get a look at Zimmer first.
He did not disappoint, and we received multiple glowing reports after his outing.
"His first pitch was 97, the next was 98. He never threw a pitch under 93, and the first 22 pitches were all strikes," a National League area scout said. "He clearly jumped to the front of the pack for being 1-1 (the first pick in the first round). He has the best curveball in the area, and he's an 80 athlete. We're not talking about a guy that just has good stuff. He's an off-the-charts athlete—as good an athlete as you can get."
As we wrote in our preseason feature about Zimmer (subscribers only), he is still new to pitching, having thrown very sparingly in fill-in duty during his high school career, and five innings as a freshman in 2010. A converted corner infielder, the 6-foot-4, 220-pound Zimmer threw 92 innings last spring, capped by a four-hit, 11-strikeout shutout of UCLA in regionals to beat Gerrit Cole. Then Zimmer threw 48 more innings in the Cape Cod League, where he ranked as the No. 8 prospect.
So the Dons shut him down for almost the entire fall, and they are slowly building him up this spring. He was on a 40-pitch limit in his season debut, but because he threw so many strikes he was able to go four scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and no walks while striking out three. The Dons did not let him throw his slider in that one, and he'll throw just a few against Missouri tomorrow, when his pitch count will increase to the 60-65 range. USF pitching coach Greg Moore said the Dons will restrict Zimmer for one more outing after this week, then loosen the reins.
Zimmer topped out at 99 mph in his debut and hit 98 repeatedly. He also threw his downer curveball harder than usual, at 85-86.
"I would say the curveball is better than the slider, but they're both good, solid pitches because he throws them for strikes so often," Moore said. "He throws two different curveballs, just changes speeds. He throws a very firm one that's almost like a big split that drops hard, and another one he'll just drop in there for a strike. Last week was the best velocity we'd measured on his curveball. When he throws it to lefties, he will move it to the back foot and probably have two-plane action. But mostly he's throwing it in the middle of the plate with good downward plane."
Zimmer also mixes in a straight changeup with good deception around 86 mph.
"He just sells the heck out of it, and he can throw it to both sides of the plate," Moore said. "He's got good touch."
That combination of feel, electric stuff, athleticism and a fresh arm could prove irresistible to scouts in June. He entered the spring ranked No. 28 on our overall Top 100 prospects list, but he has serious upward momentum. Appel, the No. 1 prospect on our list, was hit fairly hard Friday despite only giving up two hits in seven innings, and the NL scout said he almost felt bad for Appel, because Zimmer was a tough act to follow.
A second scout added, "Everyone is saying Zimmer is way better than Appel."