By JAY LeBLANC
July 24, 2008
It’s hard to believe now, but Jordan Zimmermann wasn’t even on the prospect radar just a few short years ago. The Auburdale, Wisc., native was a three-sport standout in high school but went undrafted and attracted virtually no attention from Division I college programs, so he decided to stay close to home and play for Division III Wisconsin-Stevens Point. To say that Zimmermann blossomed as a collegian would be a massive understatement. After throwing a fastball that topped out in the mid- to high-80s in high school, he increased his velocity to the low- to mid-90s by his junior season, went 10-0 with a 2.08 ERA and was named MVP of the 2007 Division III World Series as a two-way player. The Washington Nationals took notice and selected him with their second-round pick (No. 67 overall) in the 2007 draft.
Since then, Zimmermann has wasted little time in breezing through the Nats’ minor league system. His electric stuff proved too much for New York-Penn League hitters to handle last summer as he went 5-2 with a 2.38 ERA and 71 strikeouts in just 53 innings as a member of the Vermont Lake Monsters. His dominant performance prompted the Nats to skip him over Class A and have him start the 2008 season with the advanced Class A Potomac Nationals, for whom he went 3-1 with a 1.65 ERA in five appearances before earning a promotion to the double-A Harrisburg Senators. The 6’ 2”, 200 pound righty has had little trouble adjusting to double-A hitters; in 14 starts, he’s gone 4-2 with a 3.50 ERA, and he was recently selected as an Eastern League Mid-Season All-Star.
Between advanced Class A and double-A, Zimmermann is now 7-3 with a 3.03 ERA this season and has struck out 101 batters and walked just 39 in 107 innings. It’s been just over a year since he was drafted, but there’s already speculation that the 22-year-old could find himself in the Nats’ rotation by the end of the summer. I caught up with Zimmermann - who was ranked by Baseball America as the Nationals’ No. 7 prospect this past offseason, but will surely be ranked higher on their next list - after last night’s rain-shortened contest against the Bowie Baysox at Prince George’s Stadium:
Q: You went from playing at a Division III program to being a second-round pick in the MLB draft. Would you consider yourself a late bloomer?
A: Yeah, I’d say I was a late bloomer. In high school I wasn’t throwing nearly as hard as I am now; I was probably throwing 86, 87. I just stayed close to home, went to a Division III school and started lifting weights, and I started throwing harder.
Q: What was your reaction when you learned you’d been drafted by the Nationals?
A: I was excited. My agent said it was a great team to get drafted by. The ballclub was struggling a little bit and they needed some pitching, and he said “This is a good fit for you.”
Q: Could you talk a bit about the different pitches you throw and how you like to use them?
A: I like to get ahead with my fastball. Late in the game I like to start guys out with the curveball and put them away with the slider. I’m developing a changeup right now; it needs a little work, but it’s coming around.
Q: What are some of the things you’re trying to work on this season?
A: Basically, the biggest thing is the changeup. I’ve got to throw it a lot more and get the feel for it. It’s a feel pitch, and that’s the biggest thing right now.
Q: Is there any pitcher, past or present, that you either look up to or try to model your approach after?
A: Growing up in Milwaukee I really liked Ben Sheets. He’s had a lot of injuries the past couple years, but he’s one of the guys I really like to watch, and have a good time watching.
Q: Washington’s a National League franchise, so you’re going to have to step up to the plate. How are your hitting skills?
A: Well, I hit in college my sophomore and junior years and hit like .350 to .375. After taking a year off I’ve struggled a little bit, but I hit a double a couple games ago and I’m seeing the ball and drawing a lot of full counts. Hopefully it comes around sooner or later.
Q: How soon do you think you’ll be ready to help the Nationals?
A: Whenever they want to give me the call I’m ready. I just need to get this changeup figured out, and I think I’m really ready to go.
Jay LeBlanc is an assistant news editor at The Washington Times and Mayor of the National Pastime web community. His Prospect Q&A column runs every Monday and Thursday throughout the season. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Be sure to check out our previous National Pastime Prospect Q&A’s: Matt Wieters, Orioles; Ross Detwiler, Nationals; Adrian Alaniz, Nationals; Jake Arrieta, Orioles; Greg Golson, Phillies; John Shelby III, White Sox; Brandon Erbe, Orioles; Chris Marrero, Nationals; Jason Donald, Phillies; John Ely, White Sox; Nolan Reimold, Orioles; Michael Burgess, Nationals; Wes Hodges, Indians; Colton Willems, Nationals; Chris Tillman, Orioles; Dominic Brown, Phillies; Brandon Hicks, Braves.