The Kansas City Royals sent Kyle Zimmer, his parents and a crowd of supporters into a frenzy June 4 at their La Jolla home when they called his name just minutes into the 40-round, three-day long event. Cameras from the Major League Baseball network also recorded reactions.
“Everything was a surprise,” the 20-year-old Zimmer said later. “You don’t know what’s going to happen until they say your name. It’s always been a dream to be a professional baseball player.”
He did have one reaction planned — immediately pulling on a Royals cap when his name was called. The task was made simple, as he grabbed it from among 11 caps his aunt Tina Boughton had bought, representing the first 11 teams to select in the first round.
His high draft selection validated some disappointments along his career path.
Coaches at USF converted Zimmer to pitching after it appeared he wouldn’t see large amounts of playing time at third base. The move, which proved brilliant, was not embraced immediately by Zimmer, who threw just over five innings his entire freshman season.
But now, after his junior year at USF, Zimmer has a fastball in the mid-to-upper 90s, a nasty curveball and is working on perfecting a change up.
“He had a very strong arm and he had a lot of potential, but he was very raw as a pitcher,” said Gary Frank, Zimmer’s coach at La Jolla High. “It is defnitely surprising that he was able to have so much success as a pitcher in such a short time. His success has been a testament to his drive and determinaton.”
And it was that arm — and determination — that sent him off to Kansas City, signing a contract last week that is expected to pay him a $3 million signing bonus. He was accompanied to “The Show Me State” by his parents, Eric Zimmer and Cathy Hutchins.
“It’s been sort of a whirlwind,” the former Viking infielder told Kansas City media. “It’s been going pretty non-stop and it’s been exciting.”
J. J. Picollo, the Royals’ assistant general manager for player personnel, also expressed excitement.
“We’re extremely proud to have Kyle as part of our organization,” Picollo said. “His desire is to play professional baseball and we’re fortunate it’s with us.”
The new signee then visited Kauffman Stadium, home of the Royals, just as the team was departing on an inter-league road trip to Pittsburgh. He had time to meet players and get a glimpse of the ballpark he had only previously seen on television.
This year at USF, the 6-foot-4-inch, 220-pound right-hander had a dominant season, striking out 104 hitters while walking only 17, a ratio that drew national attention. He was named West Coast Conference Pitcher of the Week and also made the league’s All-Academic Team with a 3.72 GPA.
“Kyle was always a very determined young man, both in the classroom and on the baseball field,” Frank said.
Though Zimmer will be playing far from home, his high school coach said he will have no shortage of fans in La Jolla.
“Kyle is the highest draft pick to ever come out of La Jolla High School, and everyone at the school is extremely proud of him,” Frank said. “It is going to be a lot of fun to track his progress to the major leagues.”
As for his immediate future, Zimmer will report to the rookie Arizona League to rehab a groin strain before pitching. The Royals hope he will rise to the Midwest League later this year and begin next season with Class-A Wilmington of the Carolina League.
• Zimmer hit .410 and was named team captain and MVP his senior year at LJHS in 2009. He was an All-Academic team member with a 4.20 GPA.
• While at LJHS, Zimmer also played two seasons of water polo and one of basketball.
• Zimmer’s parents were both athletes. Eric Zimmer played baseball at UCSD and Hutchins ran track at SDSU.
• Zimmer’s younger brother, Brad, a 6-foot-5, 195-pound freshman outfielder, also plays for USF. Brad was drafted in the 23rd round last year by the Chicago Cubs, but chose to play with his brother. The brothers have one difference: Kyle bats right-handed, while Brad is a left-handed hitter.