The Washington Times - July 23, 2008, 10:49PM

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.

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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 [email protected]

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.