PEORIA, Ariz.—Peoria Javelinas righthander Kyle Zimmer was coming off the field after a brisk, pre-game workout on a warm and atypically humid Arizona evening.
The Royals’ No. 2 prospect as of Baseball America’s Midseason Prospect Update, Zimmer was greeted with the news that the big league team had scored a pair of ninth-inning runs to capture Game Two of the American League Championship Series over the Orioles.
While Zimmer and six other Royals prospects are playing in the Arizona Fall League to hone their baseball skills, their hearts are with the major league club in its return to the postseason after a 29-year drought.
“It's awesome being able to come off the field and watch those guys do what they do . . . just taking their loose approach and looking like they're having so much fun throughout the whole playoffs,” he said. “It's pretty fun to see."
If not for injuries during the 2014 season, Zimmer, Kansas City's 2012 first-round pick (fifth overall) from the University of San Francisco, might have been with the Royals in time to help them.
The Royals held the 6-foot-3, 215-pounder back after spring training in order to conserve innings so that he could pitch later into the year. That plan backfired with Zimmer missing most of the regular season, first with biceps tendinitis and then with a strained lat muscle. He finally got back into action in mid-August with six appearances for the Royals’ Rookie-level Pioneer League affiliate in Idaho Falls, followed by time with Triple-A Omaha during its successful run for the Triple-A national championship.
While Zimmer’s in the AFL, 2014 first-rounder Brandon Finnegan, after just 27 minor league innings, reached the majors—the first 2014 draftee to do so—and is contributing to the Royals’ bid for their first World Series since 1985.
Zimmer, 23, is taking it all in stride.
“Yeah, it's a little frustrating because obviously anyone you ask would love to be there, with a chance to help out and experience that," Zimmer said. “I'm a strong believer in everything happens for a reason, so I'm going to enjoy watching them this year and use that to fuel my fire to try to come out there every single day and find something to improve upon, and hopefully be up there and help them out in the future."
Zimmer made his AFL debut Tuesday in the season opener against the Surprise Saguaros, going up against Taijuan Walker, Seattle's top prospect. Though Zimmer yielded three runs in 3 2/3 innings, his performance received acclaim from scouts who indicated that he looked to be back to his pre-injury form. The fastball sat at 96 mph and his plus-plus curveball was extra sharp. He used all four of his pitches—fastball, slider, curveball and changeup—during his short stint.
“I felt pretty good out there," Zimmer said about his initial outing. “I thought I was throwing the ball well . . . For the most part I was down in the zone and making some good pitches. I think I was getting a little too fine on some hitters. I fell behind a little bit but I took a lot of positives out of it and I'm really excited to build off that."
Most importantly, Zimmer felt no effects from this year's injuries, reinforcing the mental approach he took in dealing with his time off this summer.
“I never had doubts that I'd be able to get back to healthy," Zimmer said. “I never lost confidence in myself or my abilities. I always feel that I can go out there and get the job done, and always trust my stuff."
One other positive aspect of coming to the AFL is that he is getting to spend time with his brother and former college teammate. Bradley Zimmer, Cleveland's first-round pick this year, is an outfielder participating in instructional league with the Indians at their complex in nearby Goodyear.
Kyle Zimmer's season might not end after the AFL’s six-week season wraps up, with a possibility that he could get in a few more appearances in the Dominican Winter League before the end of the year. That trip to the Caribbean would certainly be a new experience for Zimmer.
“From what I've heard from the Royals, it's a really competitive environment down there," Zimmer said, “(with) sellout crowds every night. Everybody's there to win . . . The talent down there is pretty good. I'm excited that wherever they send me, I'll try to make some pitches and get some outs."