Royals Handcuffed By Slow Development Of Top Pick

Jul 20, 2016

The Royals had hoped pitcher Kyle Zimmer would be fit for the big leagues this season.
Credit Greg Echlin / KCUR 89.3

In spring training, the Kansas City Royals hoped that Kyle Zimmer, their No. 1 pick in the 2012 draft, would pitch for them in the big leagues sometime this season.

It won’t happen.

Zimmer, 24, will undergo surgery for thoracic outlet syndrome, a compression of nerves between the neck and the shoulder.

Royals general manager Dayton Moore said he wishes Zimmer experienced a smoother professional career.

“It’s been a frustrating road with Kyle. No fault of his own,” Moore said. “He’s an unbelieavable competitor, a terrific person and he’s just had some bad luck.”

Royals pitcher Chris Young, 37, underwent a similar surgery three years ago and revived his career. The next year, Young was named American League Player of the Year with Seattle with 12 victories, then signed with the Royals during spring training last year and won 11 games while starting and pitching out of the bullpen.

“The second I woke up from the surgery I knew that the pain I had in front of my shoulder was completely gone,” Young said on Tuesday when asked about thoracic outlet syndrome. “I knew right then that (TOC) was the cause of the problem. I felt like I would resume normal baseball activity after that.”

Since Zimmer was drafted fifth overall from the University of San Francisco in 2012, and given a $3 million signing bonus, his progress has been slowed by injuries. Only once in his five years as a professional has Zimmer started more than ten games (22 in combined stints on the Class A and AA levels). Zimmer made only one start this season before he was shut down.

“It’s part of the challenges of this game,” said Moore before Tuesday’s game against the A.L. Central division leading Cleveland Indians. “Injuries are certainly one aspect you have to manage through. Kyle’s the right competitor to get through it.”

Tuesday night’s game is against the Indians where, if healthy and ready, Zimmer would have ideally fit in as a starter.

The opportunity is ripe because Young has since pitched his way out of the Royals starting rotation, the oft-injured Kris Medlen is back on the disabled list and Mike Minor—signed in the off-season as possible second-half help—hasn’t come around since his shoulder surgery last year.

Consequently, the Royals turned to Wichita State alum Brian Flynn on Tuesday night, a left-hander who made his first start with the Royals and first since his only start for the Miami Marlins in 2014. Flynn, the losing pitcher in the 7-3 loss, lasted only two-and-a-third innings.

Zimmer is expected to be recovered and ready for spring training in 2017. At least, that’s the Royals’ hope.

Greg Echlin is a sports reporter for KCUR 89.3. You can reach him on Twitter @GregEchlin.