KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Kyle Zimmer admittedly doesn’t know much about the Kansas City Royals.
You can bet he’ll be getting up to speed in a hurry.
The Royals drafted the right-hander out of San Francisco with the fifth overall pick on Monday night, adding an advanced arm to an organization starved for pitching.
“He was the No. 1 pitcher on our board. I think everyone should know that,” said Lonnie Goldberg, the Royals’ director of scouting. “He’s the guy we wanted.”
They had their choice, too.
In a somewhat surprising start to the draft, the Houston Astros chose shortstop Carlos Correa first overall. Outfielder Byron Buxton went second to Minnesota and catcher Mike Zunino third to Seattle, leaving Baltimore to pick LSU right-hander Kevin Gausman with the No. 4 selection.
That left the Royals with the choice of Zimmer or Stanford right-hander Mark Appel, who many believed was the best pitcher in the draft and a potential first overall choice.
It turns out there was never really a question for Kansas City.
“Our goal all the time, going into any draft, is to take the best available player,” Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. “We took the guy who we think is the best available player.”
Like most small-market clubs, Kansas City is forced to build largely through the draft, and is just now enjoying a wave of position players from their farm system. First baseman Eric Hosmer and third baseman Mike Moustakas form the cornerstone of one of the game’s major youth movements.
The long-suffering franchise has been much less successful in developing pitchers.
Kansas City hit on Zack Greinke in 2002, though he’s now pitching for Milwaukee. Aaron Crow became an All-Star reliever, though so far not the front-line starter the Royals so sorely need.
Then there are guys such as Mike Stodolka (2000), Colt Griffin (2001) and Matt Campbell (2004) who never panned out, and right-hander Luke Hochevar, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft who is lugging around one of the worst ERAs of a starting pitcher in the big leagues.
“We got a guy we think is a front-of-the-rotation starter,” said Goldberg, adding that he thinks Zimmer could be with the Royals within two years. “That’s something we wanted to attack.”
The word “attack” sums up the Royals’ only pick on the draft’s first day.
Zimmer said that he has an “animalistic” personality when he’s on the mound. The former third baseman has a fastball that tops out in the upper 90s, a good curveball and an excellent change up — and the bravado to throw any of his pitches anywhere near the strike zone.
“I’ve always been a gritty competitor,” he said.
That proved evident late in the college season, when he pitched through a hamstring injury.
He finished the season 5-3 with a 2.85 ERA, tossing two complete games. Zimmer went 6-5 his first full season as a starter last season, which included a memorable duel against UCLA’s Gerrit Cole, who went on to become the first overall pick. The Dons knocked off the Bruins 3-0 in the NCAA regional behind a four-hitter by Zimmer, who struck out 11 along the way.
“We couldn’t be happier with the player we selected,” said J.J. Picollo, the Royals’ assistant GM for scouting and player development.
Zimmer has drawn comparisons to Roy Oswalt for his repertoire and the San Francisco Giants’ Matt Cain for his size and overpowering stuff. Some have also compared the 6-foot-4, 220-pounder to the Florida Marlins’ Josh Johnson, one of the game’s most intimidating pitchers.
If he turns out to be anything like any of those three, the Royals might have finally found the ace they’ve long sought for their beleaguered starting rotation.
“I think he has the talent to pitch in the big leagues right now,” Goldberg said.