Royals sign No. 5 overall pick Zimmer to contract
Kyle Zimmer wasn't interested in holding out for an extra buck. He was interested in getting on the field as quickly as possible for the Kansas City Royals.
The No. 5 pick Major League Baseball's amateur draft signed with the Royals on Thursday, less than three days after he was chosen and for a bonus that should help the franchise sign the rest of its top draft picks.
''I'm ready to go out here and compete and get on the mound again,'' said Zimmer, who converted from third base to pitcher while he was player college baseball for San Francisco.
Zimmer visited Kauffman Stadium just before the Royals departed for an interleague series at Pittsburgh on Thursday, getting his first glimpse of the ballpark and a chance to chat up a few of the guys in the clubhouse before they boarded a bus and headed for the airport.
Zimmer was joined by his parents and his agent, Mark Pieper. He pulled on a Royals hat and slipped into the bright white jersey that he hopes to be wearing in the next few years.
''I didn't know exactly how it would play out,'' Zimmer said. ''It's been a fast process, so I haven't had a chance to sit back and reflect on the whole road yet.''
The early signing is a departure from previous years, when high draft picks often negotiated right up to an August deadline, creating some tense moments on both sides of the table.
The new collective bargaining agreement moved this year's deadline to July 13 and created a bonus pool structure that serves as a compromise between Major League Baseball's desire for a hard slot system and the player union's argument that draft picks deserve individual bargaining rights.
Kansas City has a bonus pool of $6,101,500 that it can use for its first 10 picks.
The recommended figure for the No. 5 player in the structure was $3.5 million, which means the Royals managed to save $500,000 on Zimmer's signing. That becomes additional money that they can use to help sign the other nine players they chose in the first 10 rounds.
''Every negotiation is different,'' Royals general manager Dayton Moore said. ''Kyle really wanted to get out and play. He had a desire to get out and play right away.''
That was welcome news for the Royals, who have grown accustomed to tense negotiations.
They signed third baseman Mike Moustakas, the No. 2 overall pick in 2007, to a $4 million bonus about 10 minutes before that year's deadline. First baseman Eric Hosmer signed for a $6 million bonus the following year, once again just minutes before the deadline.
Last year may have been the most anxious, when outfielder Bubba Starling was weighing an offer to play football at Nebraska. The Royals ended up signing him to a $7.5 million bonus in the final seconds before the deadline, setting a franchise record for the largest signing bonus.
Those kinds of numbers may be a thing of the past, though.
Under the new structure, the Houston Astros were able to sign shortstop Carlos Correa, the No. 1 overall pick this year, to a relatively modest $4.8 million bonus.
''The advantage we're starting to see already is guys are going to get out and start playing this summer,'' said J.J. Picollo, the Royals' assistant GM for player personnel. ''It meets the players' needs and it meets the club's needs.''
Zimmer plans to head to Arizona in the next few days, where he'll rehab a hamstring injury that turned into a groin strain. Once he's ready, he'll start off in the rookie Arizona League.
Moore said there is no timetable on Zimmer's progression, though he indicated that he hopes the right-hander can finish the season in the Midwest League. That would put him in position to start next season at Class-A Wilmington in the Carolina League.
''Wherever they think is best for my development,'' Zimmer said.
The 20-year-old Zimmer began his college career as a third baseman, but wound up switching to the mound when it became clear that he wouldn't receive much playing time.
Zimmer admits that he was reluctant to make the switch at first, but he's grown to love pitching. He went 6-5 with a 3.73 ERA his first full season, outdueling UCLA's Gerrit Cole - the eventual first overall draft pick in 2011 - to win an NCAA regional game.
With a fastball in the mid- to upper-90s, a sharp curveball and encouraging changeup, Zimmer managed to go 5-3 with a 2.85 ERA this season. He tossed two shutouts among his 13 starts.
It was enough to make him the No. 1 pitcher on the Royals' draft board.
''We're extremely proud to have him as part of our organization, and extremely proud and happy that he was willing to get out here as quickly as he did,'' Picollo said. ''His desire is to play professional baseball. We're just fortunate it's with us.''