(Photo via Tommie Sports, seen here)
Ryan Zimmerman knows he’ll be pitching this summer. But he doesn’t know where yet.
Hopeful of fulfilling every ballplayer’s dream, the recent St. Thomas (Minnesota) graduate recognizes he has just a slim chance of being selected in the MLB draft. “I understand what situation I’m in as a D3 senior. I’m undersized for the draft. My velocity isn’t crazy high,” Zimmerman said. “I’m pretty realistic about it.”
Listed at 5-foot-10, 175-pounds, the right-hander throws a mid-high 80s fastball that has touched 91 in addition to two breaking balls and a changeup. Should he not be drafted, that arsenal may be coming to the American Association or another independent professional baseball league.
Having already done a tryout for the nearby St. Paul Saints, Zimmerman plans to try out for several more indy ball clubs. He will probably have an opportunity to pitch in independent baseball, but available spots are few and far between. According to Zimmerman, indy clubs enter the seasons with full rosters and vacancies can come via injuries or players being purchased by MLB organizations.
Zimmerman might even return to the Eau Claire Express of the Northwoods league, where he compiled a collective 3.10 ERA over the last two summers. The whole year I’ve been throwing out question marks all over the place,” Zimmerman said. “It’s a really weird time.”
Uncertain about his baseball future, Zimmerman says some of the nervousness has dissipated now that his NCAA eligibility has expired and he is able to communicate with independent clubs. What he does know for sure is that he’ll make the most of the next opportunity to come his way. That’s what he did during his career at St. Thomas.
Zimmerman finished his collegiate career with a 3.04 ERA and 203 strikeouts in 180 1/3 innings.
Few could have seen such success coming. Zimmerman partially tore his labrum during his junior year of high school, a grim fate during the recruiting period. He didn’t need surgery but was instructed to stop throwing for a year. He went to St. Thomas as a two way player.
“I came in thinking I was going to be a hitter,” Zimmerman said of his collegiate career. “I was throwing only 82, 83 maybe as a freshman.” These were well below the velocities he reached in high school before his injury. After shutting down for a full year, it took time for the zip to return on Zimmerman’s fastball. He pitched in relief his first two seasons with the Tommies and recorded just five at-bats at the plate per tommiesports.com.
For his upperclassmen seasons, Zimmerman moved into the starting rotation. He continued to utilize the shoulder exercises he learned rehabbing from his shoulder injury and made 20 collegiate starts, striking out more than a batter per inning. In his final start, he tossed a 157-pitch complete game victory in the MIAC playoffs. He has had no shoulder or health issues.
Zimmerman sees room for improvement. “I definitely want to keep developing the changeup,” he said. “It got a lot better this year but can still keep going.” He wants to continue to fine tune his mechanics and add to his fastball velocity, hoping to get it into the 89-93 range.
Though Zimmerman has potential and options to pitch beyond college, he has considered the possibility of his playing career ending altogether. “I’ve always wanted to be a financial advisor once baseball is done,” he said. But when that time will come is up in the air.
Zimmerman, who holds a degree in finance, says playing independent professional baseball could be financially feasible with discipline. Should he end up along that path, he might play up to three years of indy ball before calling it quits.
Playing professionally was always a goal for Zimmerman, but it began to feel plausible during the last two years. He said the success he found in the Northwoods Leagues against future draft picks from top Division I programs provided confidence. Zimmerman believes he’s good enough to play at some sort of the next level. In the coming days, he should learn where that is.
The 2018 MLB Draft takes place June 4-6.