By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Jordan Zimmermann, Starting Pitcher, Washington Nationals
2011 season: 26 G, 161.1 IP, 8-11, 3.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, 124 K, 31 BB
Before Stephen Strasburg was drafted by the Nationals, the hyped pitching prospect in Washington was Zimmermann. He showed a glimpse of his potential when he came up as a rookie in 2009, striking out just over a batter a frame while posting a 4.63 ERA in 91.1 innings. Unfortunately, his promising season came to an end when a torn ulnar collateral ligament forced him to undergo Tommy John surgery in August. He recovered relatively quickly from the injury, however, and was able to make it back for the tail end of 2010.
Last year, Zimmermann again had some injury troubles, but was still the best and most reliable starter on the Nationals’ staff. His strikeout rate isn’t what is what his rookie year, but he nonetheless excelled at keeping opposing batters off the basepaths. He displayed some of the best control in the National League, preventing hitters from taking many free passes, and limited opponents to a .251 batting average. The peripherals suggest that the latter figure was not luck, either – he did not benefit from an unusually high among of outs made on balls in play, which can happen over single seasons.
At 25 years old, Zimmermann is essentially a three-pitch pitcher. He relies heavily upon the fastball, with a slider as his out-pitch and a decent curveball as well. He’s got a show-me changeup that he will sometimes break out a few times in a game, but it’s not much of a weapon at this point. It would be nice to see him develop more of a repertoire, but obviously he has been successful with the one he has. His arsenal did not prevent him from pitching relatively deep into games last year, as he made it into the seventh inning in 13 of his 26 starts.
The noise this year will once again be around Strasburg, as well as the team’s new acquisitions. Washington made a blockbuster trade for Gio Gonzalez and signed workhorse Edwin Jackson, meaning the pressure might be off Zimmermann. Still, the right-hander is capable of performing as the Nats’ No. 2 starter. There’s no reason to think he will struggle to repeat last year season, and if he can do it over 200 innings, he will be one of the most valuable pitchers in the league. The NL East looks to be one of the most competitive divisions in baseball this year, and the up- and-coming Nationals are part of the reason why. Zimmermann will be a big piece of a Washington team that is only going to get better over the next few years.
Next up on March 20: Miami Marlins