Bruce Zimmermann Shocking Everyone

Bruce Zimmermann Shocking Everyone

When the Atlanta Braves picked Bruce Zimmermann last June with their fifth-round choice, the rationale was simple. The organization has had luck with small-college arms with impressive numbers. The bigger takeaway, however, was that Zimmermann was a senior sign. A senior sign is almost a rarity in today’s age. It refers to a guy who has exhausted his amateur status and has no leverage to go back to school rather than sign. Because Zimmermann had spent four years split between Towson and Mount Olive, he had no choice but to sign if he wanted to keep playing baseball.

Because of that, he received just $10,000 in a signing bonus. No other fifth-rounder received less than $200,000 and one, Sam McMillan, signed for a million. Most teams were close to their slot value. But not the Braves. Zimmermann’s value was that he would sign and sign for cheap, allowing Atlanta the opportunity to invest the money saved on slot value elsewhere. Former General Manager John Coppolella loved to manipulate the slot values almost as much as he loved to funnel money to international free agents.

Funny thing, though. Zimmermann is pitching like a guy who deserved not only a high-value pick but a higher choice than was used on him.

In seven starts this year for Rome, Zimmermann had a 2.82 ERA, 2.45 FIP, and 2.63 xFIP. He has struck out 31% of opposing batters while walking just 4.6%. Or to put that in more raw totals, in 38.1 innings, Zimmermann has walked just seven batters. He’s struck out 48. The Mount Olive product has been nearly dynamite all season outside of being crushed for nine runs, seven earned, in four innings back on April 12. He’s allowed seven runs, five earned, since that start with a 1.24 ERA. In three of his last four outings, he’s struck out at least nine batters.

In some ways, he’s building on last summer’s success in Danville – though with even better results. Despite being a college starter, there was belief Zimmermann profiled better as a reliever and would be used as such. That never happened despite the Braves limiting Zimmermann to just 23.1 innings over eleven starts with the D-Braves. He was quite successful, though, with a K-rate of 29% and a walk rate at 9%. This year, he’s only improved.

Where did Zimmermann come from? A Baltimore-area product, he stayed in state and started his post-high school career with Towson. After a decent freshman season, he struggled through a 7.64 ERA in 2015. Zimmermann transferred south to Mount Olive College in North Carolina. He could be a full-time starter there and over two years, maintained an ERA of about 3.18 with gaudy strikeout numbers and tremendous control. Sure, it was Division 2 baseball. It was also eye-opening numbers as 241 strikeouts in 197.2 innings tends to be.

A lefty, Zimmermann sits in the low-to-mid 90’s. While his change-up and curveball didn’t have high ratings when he was drafted, the results kind of speak for themselves. And as you might expect, as a southpaw, Zimmermann makes life really difficult on left-handed batters. They are hitting an abysmal .164/.200/.213 this season against him. Ouch.

Until this year, the most interesting thing about Zimmermann was his stache. Now, he’s turning into a legit prospect. It’s hard not to think Zimmermann will be moving into the Top 30 prospect rankings by midseason based on his early results. Certainly, we can pull back a bit here. Zimmermann, at 23, is a bit older than the league average in the South Atlantic League. To be fair, he had less than 25 innings of professional experience entering 2018. Further, a smart and crafty pitcher can carve up inexperienced hitters at this level.

If Zimmermann remains successful, though, he will get his shot to move up and will be challenged. The Braves have long preferred to keep guys at Rome for a year to allow them to get used to a full-year schedule, but Zimmermann might push their approach. Plus, with four years of college, he may not need that much time in Single-A. And if things keep going the way they have so far, there is not going to be a hitter in the South Atlantic League who won’t be happy to see Zimmermann move up when it happens. Especially the lefties.

3 Comments

Tommy….everyday I follow/keep up with the stats of all 4 MILB teams that are currently playing for The Braves (earlier in the season, I watched a number of AAA Gwinnett games, via The MILB Online Package, because of Acuna, Soroka and Allard. Even watched a few of Tooki’s starts at AA Mississippi, especially when Austin Riley was in the lineup).

However, I’ve found myself starting to follow Zimmerman’s starts. Regardless of his age, it IS NOT easy to strikeout lots of hitters while keeping your walks down to a minimum…at that level (if anything, the umpiring at that level is highly ‘inconsistent’. You never know what kind of strike zone you’re going to get on any given night).

The Braves, because of the number of high upside Starting Pitching Prospects who are ahead of him in The System, may take ‘the slow approach’ (keeping him in Rome all year long, then promoting him to Florida once Wentz and Anderson have been promoted to AA Mississippi). If anything, Zimmerman can build his trade value..by putting up some ‘eye-popping numbers’ by the time the season ends. Or, Zimmerman can push some of our highly touted pitching prospects to do even better (knowing that Zim is on their heels when it comes to competing for a spot in The Braves future rotation).

Like you, I’m skeptical of Zimmerman overall…UNTIL he proves he can replicate these early seasons numbers at higher levels of The System. Still, it’s a ‘good problem’ to have: another potentially high upside starting pitching prospect to add to the list, lol!

I’ve seen and charted every game he’s pitched this year on MiLB tv (as well as several other pitchers). I’m in no way a scout, just a big fan. This is my guess as to what is going on with him. Basically, he has an above average 55 fastball because of the good sink and tail that induces a high ground ball percentage, and has average 50 secondaries (curve, change, and he might even be throwing a slider this year), and above average 55 control right now (capable of reaching 60 control at absolute ceiling). He’s improved the command and consistency of his secondaries this year. Dan Meyer must be an unbelievable pitching coach. Kyle Muller, Jasseel De La Cruz, and now Zimm have all improved greatly. Meyer must be so good at teaching mechanics. Good technique leads to good command. Realistic ceiling: 4th or 5th starter.

Great article, Tommy! I learned a lot about Zimmerman. I have to also say, the Amateur Draft process is extremely flawed. It’s almost criminally wrong that this guy only got a 10k signing bonus, when other players were getting 20 times that!

I won’t single Coppy out on this, because I know other GMs do it- but it’s blatant exploitation. There should be a minimum for each round of the draft so GM’s can’t play the slot bonus game, and college seniors don’t get the shaft.

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