It didn't take long for Zimmerman to make himself known in the minors. He was originally assigned to Vermont in the New York - Penn League and put up strong enough numbers there that the Nationals had him start the 2008 season at Potomac, skipping over a usual stop with Hagerstown in the South Atlantic League. For a 22 year old from a small college program, Zimmerman showed that he was above his class at Potomac and wound up being there for just about a month before he was pushed up to Double-A Harrisburg. Again, Zimmerman was pounding away at the competition and did enough to convince Baseball America that he was deserving of their ranking as the top prospect in the Nationals organization coming into 2009.
So, just how high can Zimmerman climb this summer?
For their part, the Nationals are bringing Zimmerman into major league camp, knowing that he's certainly not far away and the experience will do him good. They're also going to give him a look to gauge whether he may be ready to join their rotation to start the season.
One wild card in the process could be Shawn Hill. While Hill is widely considered a potential ace of the staff, he hasn't been able to stay healthy and is recovering from last September's surgery to remove some small spurs in his elbow. He's getting closer to throwing off a mound and figures that he'll be ready for spring training, but remains a question mark in the Nationals rotation.
Meanwhile, two spots are seemingly locked up by lefty John Lannan and newcomer Scott Olsen, who came over in a trade with the Marlins last November. If he's healthy, Hill would grab one spot and another newcomer, free agent Daniel Cabrera would likely claim another. That would leave one spot open, with Zimmerman and Collin Balester being the top candidates to fill that spot.
While also just 22, Balester has much more minor league experience than Zimmerman and got his first taste of the majors last summer, but struggled through 15 starts - 3-7, 5.51 - with the Nationals.
While Zimmerman's pitches don't always look overwhelming, he knows how to work hitters and is improving on his secondary pitches. His fastball is generally in the low-90s, edging on the mid-90s when he needs a little extra on the pitch. He uses strong command to move the pitch through the strike zone and uses a hard, late-breaking curve to keep hitters on their toes. Zimmerman's change-up has shown progress and he continues to work on the pitch, which could greatly help his odds for success in the majors.
To some, Zimmerman's move through the minors isn't a surprise. Had it not been for a string of horrible luck, Zimmerman may have been much tougher - and certainly more expensive - for the Nationals to get. After the 2006 season, Zimmerman took a line drive off his jaw in an off-season workout, breaking his jaw and putting him out of commission. Then, during the 2007 season in college, he had to have his wisdom teeth pulled, causing him to miss more time. Some scouts believe that he could have gone at least in the top ten overall picks and possibly higher had he not been slowed by the injuries.
Zimmerman has shown enough progress to believe that he is ready for the majors, but a little work at Triple-A wouldn't hurt him. He'll have to outpitch Balester in spring training to win a spot in the rotation the old-fashioned way, but could certainly find himself there anyway is Hill or one of the other incumbents were to run into problems. Certainly, by mid-season, Zimmerman should be ready to spend time in D.C. and it's unlikely that he'll make it a temporary stop.
With young prospects like Zimmerman and Balester poised on the edge of the majors and others coming through the system, there is reason to hope for improvement from the Nationals starting rotation in the very near future.