This could be the year Kyle Zimmer makes his long-awaited major league debut thanks to spending six months at Driveline Baseball.
The Royals have been waiting patiently on the 27-year-old righthander since drafting him fifth overall out of San Francisco in 2012.
Zimmer ranked as the Royals’ No. 1 prospect heading into 2013 and 2014 and then inside the top 10 for three seasons after that. It was easy to see why. His fastball reached the high 90s and his curveball ranked as the best in the organization.
A litany of injuries derailed Zimmer, and he has totaled just 116 innings in the past five seasons. He had elbow surgery in August 2012, biceps tendinitis in 2013, shoulder surgery after the 2014 season and thoracic outlet syndrome surgery in 2016.
Last spring, Zimmer again was shut down with a sore shoulder, an injury he had battled since August 2013.
“You’ve got to realize that as much as you want to think you’re in control, you’re not,” Zimmer said, “You’re just trying to ride it out, each setback. I couldn’t brush my teeth. I couldn’t comb my hair. For six years I was pitching like that consistently.”
The Royals released Zimmer from the 40-man roster last April and re-signed him to a minor league deal. But rather than have Zimmer rehab and get back on the mound, the Royals sent him to Driveline, a data-driven baseball training facility in the Seattle area.
“It was great for me,” Zimmer said. “Guys at Driveline equipped me with all the tools I need. I have a much better foundation, strength and mobility-wise, than I had in the past. I just sort of rebuild the foundation from the ground up.
“They took a hold of me, got a lot of one-on-one soft tissue work, a lot of lifting, a lot of mobility work that I hadn’t done as much in the past. It was more of an aggressive training plan than I was used to. I think my body adapted.”
Zimmer qualified for minor league free agency last fall. The Royals signed him to a major league contract after he had other suitors.
“When you’re phone is ringing and you’re getting offers, you hear it,” Zimmer said. “(But) I obviously have pretty significant loyalty to the Royals because they’ve stuck with me over the years.”
—Righthander Trevor Oaks is perhaps headed for hip surgery to repair a labrum tear. Oaks, who was acquired from the Dodgers last year in a trade, will seek a second opinion.
— Outfielder Bubba Starling, the club’s first-round pick in 2011, began spring training on a 6-for-7 team that included two home runs, a double and four RBIs.