Minors : : General
Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Zimmer sets goals high

Nick Kappel        
Photo: Kane County Cougars

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Kyle Zimmer has been with the Kane County Cougars for less than three weeks, but he’s already making a big impression.

Following his last start on Friday, Aug. 10 — a three-hit, 10-strikeout performance in 6.2 innings against the Clinton LumberKings — Zimmer endured a two-plus hour bus ride with his team back to Geneva, Ill. His next start will come five days later, and there’s much work to be done before then.

The day after Zimmer pitches is no walk in the park. He’ll wake up around 8 a.m. and head to the gym for a two-hour workout, which consists of anything from core to legs to conditioning. Then he’ll get some food and go to the ballpark around 1:30 to get his shoulder work in. Then he’ll throw. Then he’ll run. Then he’ll do more core work before shagging balls during team batting practice.

And then it’s 6:30, game time. For the next three hours his body will rest, but his mind will not. He encourages teammates with claps and butt-slaps. He watches fellow pitchers and tries to learn something new. And he watches opposing hitters, hoping to pick up on their tendencies. It’s a grueling day that doesn’t end until around 11 p.m, 15 hours after it began.

And that’s just the first day.

Day two is another demanding one at the ballpark: Throwing, conditioning, band work and shoulder work. Batting practice. Game. Bed.

Day three starts early. Instead of a throwing program at the park, it’s a bullpen session. Here, he focuses on improving one thing. On this day, it was throwing fastballs to his opposite arm-side of the plate.

“I was about a half of a ball off today,” Zimmer said. “I’m trying to pound that pitch in on 0-2 counts, so I need to perfect that a little more.”

The third and fourth days are similar to the second: Throwing, conditioning, band work and shoulder work. Batting practice. Game. And then finally, bed.

And then he awakes on the fifth day, prepared to show why the Royals drafted him fifth overall in the 2012 MLB June Amateur Draft.

Major League Baseball recommends a $3.5 million signing bonus for the slot Zimmer was selected in, but he didn’t hold out for it like some draft picks do. He signed for less money — $3 million — no more than 72 hours after he was drafted.

“I was in shock, speechless,” he said of the moment that Bud Selig called his name. “I felt more relief than anything, because you’re nervous and you want your name to get read so you can celebrate with your family. Just knowing that all the work and all the long hours paid off in that moment, it was crazy.

“I just really wanted to get out here and start competing and be on a team. Everybody I’ve met throughout the organization has been great and has welcomed me with open arms. It’s been a great experience so far.”

It’s an experience that many young players, such as the 48 incoming high school seniors who participated in the Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings on Sunday, will face very soon. To them, Zimmer offers a bit of advice.

“Just say in the moment. Don’t worry about anything that’s out of your control and take it day-by-day. A lot of people are going to be coming after you to get different things. Whatever ends up happening, you can look back at that point, but you don’t want to look back and say, “I wish I had done this or that.” Just enjoy it and have fun with it.”

And perhaps most importantly, be receptive to change, something Zimmer learned his freshman season at the University of San Francisco.

Zimmer was a third baseman as an incoming freshman, but the team already had a starter at the position. The coaches at USF saw potential in his arm, so they put him on the mound.

“It was a tough transition at first, it wasn’t something that clicked right away,” he said. “Slowly I started trying every pitch I could think of. I finally started clicking with a curveball and then I developed a slider. I used to throw a splitter but I switched over to a straight change. It’s been a process that’s come to this point. It took a lot of long days and hard work but I think it’s paid off.”

Like his transition to pitching, adjusting to the everyday rigors of professional ball has been a big change for Zimmer, who’s used to pitching every seventh day in college, not every fifth. Fortunately, the Cougars have an off-day on Tuesday — their first in three weeks. Zimmer will spend it with his teammates on a boat in Lake Michigan.

“I’ve actually only been fishing two or three times,” Zimmer, a California-native said. “I’ve been a surfer my whole life and done the beach thing. But a lot of these guys love fishing and they invited me to go, so I’m going to see how it works.”

Come Wednesday, it’s back to the grind as Zimmer continues to prepare for his next start. And then his next, and then his next. The 20-year-old (he’ll turn 21 next month) will likely finish the season with Kane County, but should ascend quickly towards the top of the Royals’ organization.

While most minor leaguers set their sights on a big-league promotion, Zimmer has set his goals even higher.

“I want to win a Cy Young award and a World Series in a Royals uniform,” he said. “I don’t like to put limitations on myself and I feel like I have the God-given abilities to go as far as however much I put into it will give me. I set my goals as high as I can and hopefully I can reach them.”

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