By Rob Rains
JUPITER, Fla. – Bob Zimmerman believes his professional pitching career did not progress as far as he would have liked because of some bad advice, and some of his own mistakes, that occurred while he was in the minor leagues.
That’s why he is now determined to help other pitchers avoid those pitfalls, and one of those pitchers hoping to benefit from Zimmerman’s past is the Cardinals’ Dakota Hudson.
Zimmerman, a product of DeSmet High School in St. Louis and Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) opened Premier Baseball KC five years ago in suburban Kansas City, a training center that is now working with more than 80 pitchers in college and the pros, and a lot more in high school and youth just beginning to learn how to pitch.
Hudson first became acquainted with Zimmerman a few years ago through his brother-in-law, Ryan, who was training at the facility. With Hudson now living in the Kansas City area in the off-season, he turned to Zimmerman to help him prepare for this season.
Specifically, Hudson is hoping his work with Zimmerman will allow him to be able to be more consistent in his delivery and cut down on how many walks he allows. Hudson had the most walks of any pitcher in the National League last season.
Hudson can already see the improvement through his first appearances this spring, and Zimmerman is confident the work the two put in this winter will provide dividends during the regular season.
“Dakota has electric stuff,” Zimmerman said. “Seeing how he pitched last year and how many walks he had, and how many deep counts he had, our big focus was on being repeatable so he could eliminate those deeper counts and eliminate walks. That will allow him to pitch more innings.
“One thing that was glaring for him was that sometimes his arm would get a little too long in the back and kind of get stuck behind him. The ball would kind of take off on him, so keeping him in a more consistent pattern through his arm swing allows him to repeat a lot better.”
Hudson issued only one walk in his first 8 2/3 innings covering three appearances this spring before walking three in his last start on Sunday. That total, however, was a little deceiving as he was working more with his changeup and breaking ball than he probably would have done had it been a regular-season game.
“He might have looked like he was going deeper in counts but that was because he was trying to do some things not typical of how he normally pitches,” Zimmerman said.
Hudson can already see the benefits of the work he put in this winter, when he usually made the 15-minute drive from his home to the facility six days a week, arriving around 7 a.m.
“Honestly it makes me feel like it’s a little more effortless,” he said of the changes in his delivery. “It doesn’t feel like I am trying to go out there and have to throw max effort. It feels more like it’s easy right now. I think my recovery is going to be better and I will be in a better position to stay strong.”
Hudson is one of several Cardinals who pursued private tutoring over the winter as a way to improve his performance, similar to Daniel Ponce de Leon spending his own money to go through a week of Driveline instruction, a decision that also has gone well for Ponce de Leon this spring.
“When it comes to getting better in development, they (the Cardinals) are not going to hold us back,” Hudson said. “It’s more of a catalyst. They want us to get out there; it’s our careers. You have to take control of what you want to do. It’s my career. I want to be better; I want to be the best I can be. That’s kind of where I went to try to develop.”
Zimmerman can appreciate that attitude from Hudson.
“As a player it’s your career and if there is something that you can do that’s going to help you out, it’s on you to do it,” Zimmerman said.
Trying to get that extra help was something Zimmerman never was able to do after he was drafted in the fourth round by the Angels in 2003 and began a career that lasted 12 seasons but never saw him advance beyond Double A. He pitched in 20 games for Springfield in 2008.
That came after he saved 24 games in his first full season in Class A in 2003 and added 17 saves the next year before his career took a downward turn.
“My path was that I was given some bad information on how to move and my delivery and it really affected me,” Zimmerman said. “I lost a lot of velocity and lost command. I couldn’t control my secondary pitches anymore and so my career kind of took a downward spiral from there.
“From that point I made it more of a mission to figure out why the body does what it does and why we need to do things; how do we protect the arm and stay healthy; how we repeat movements. I just felt it got me to a position to be able to help guys in more of a holistic fashion.”
Zimmerman is happy to share his experiences, including the negative moments, as a way to help other pitchers such as Hudson and a lot of others at the top levels of the minor leagues who are knocking on the door of the major leagues, or others just beginning to learn how to pitch.
“I made some mistakes on my own that I probably wish I could take back but I don’t regret it at all because I feel like it’s led me to the path that I’m on now,” Zimmerman said. “Having that experience is really useful for some of these guys who are trying to make sure they don’t go down that same road.”
Hudson intends to stay in touch with Zimmerman throughout the season, and Zimmerman will be watching closely to see how their work together is helping Hudson achieve his goals. Hudson called him on Sunday after his last game to discuss how it went.
“I’m drawing confidence from last year and being able to add something and develop into a complete pitcher,” Hudson said. “I feel good about it.”
So does Zimmerman.
“I think he’s going to have a lot of fun this year,” Zimmerman said. “I’m excited to see it.”
Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains
For more information on Premier Baseball Kansas City, go to their website, www.premierbaseballkc.com
Photo by AP courtesy of KSDK Sports