KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Royals’ first-round pick is in the fold.
Just three days after selecting him with the No. 5 overall pick, the Royals announced on Thursday that they have agreed to a deal with right-handed pitcher Kyle Zimmer of the University of San Francisco.
The club unveiled the news at a press conference at Kauffman Stadium — with Zimmer in attendance. As of Wednesday evening, the signing bonus was thought to be worth near or perhaps slightly below the slot value of $3.5 million.
The announcement is certainly positive news for a franchise that has made a habit of signing first-round picks at the last minute. During the last six years, the Royals have signed former first-round picks Mike Moustakas, Eric Hosmer and Bubba Starling just minutes before the draft deadline. In 2009, right-hander Aaron Crow did not sign until September because, as a re-drafted player who had exercised his collegiate eligibility, the deadline rules did not apply.
This time around, the Royals wasted little time, while perhaps having an assist from Major League Baseball’s new — and more strict — rules on draft slotting.
In Zimmer, 20, they have acquired a late bloomer who exploded on the scene last summer in the Cape Cod League before establishing himself as a top-five talent during his junior season at San Francisco. He tailed off this spring after suffering a strained hamstring.
The Royals have said they were emboldened to take Zimmer after watching him fight through the injury, and scouts have given him high marks for his athleticism and two plus-pitches — a mid-90s fastball and power curveball. He can also throw a change-up.
“I feel like I command all of my pitches pretty well,” Zimmer said on Monday after the Royals made him the fifth pick in the draft. “I feel like my curveball is an out pitch, and I feel like I do a really good job of staying on top of my fastball and moving it to both sides of the plate.
“I feel like my change-up is a good pitch. But like any other pitcher at this level, I think you’ve got to polish off all of your pitches. You’ve got to be consistent every time you go out on the mound.”
On Wednesday, J.J. Picollo, the Royals’ assistant general manager for scouting and player development, said the club would evaluate Zimmer for a few weeks in Surprise, Ariz., as he recovers from his hamstring injury. The Royals’ rookie minicamp begins on Sunday, and the evaluation period figures to include a few starts in the Arizona Rookie League before a likely assignment to a minor-league affiliate.
That destination could be rookie-league Idaho Falls in the Pioneer League or perhaps even Class A Kane County, depending on how Zimmer performs in Arizona.