Transfer Zimmerman makes instant impact for Spartans baseball

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Jordan Zimmerman is leading the Big Ten with a .437 average while playing first base for Michigan State.

East Lansing — The Tigers weren’t the only baseball team in Michigan to add a Jordan Zimmermann to their roster.

Michigan State got one, too — Jordan Zimmerman.

And he’s making an impact, taking a 20-game hitting streak into today’s game against Michigan at McLane Baseball Stadium.

“We felt like we needed an impact hitter,” Michigan State coach Jake Boss Jr. said. “We were fortunate enough to get him.”

Zimmerman enters his first game against Michigan State’s rival — a nonconference game added to make up for postponements — leading the Big Ten in hitting (.437), second in on-base percentage (.521), third in slugging (.641) and seventh in hits (45).

He’s been a bright spot for a Michigan State team that cracked Baseball America’s Top 25 thanks to pitching.

Not bad for a player barely recruited out of high school in Mesa, Arizona. So, Zimmerman went to Mesa Community College in Arizona, helping it reach the Junior College World Series as a freshman.

“I kind of played in the shadows of a lot of really good shortstops in the area,” Zimmerman said last week. “You look at the numbers I put up. They were pretty good numbers in high school. It was kind of upsetting to see what happened.

“But I’m here now. I worked hard in the offseason. I got bigger and stronger.”

Zimmerman played four years on varsity, hitting better than .400 each season.

But big-time college scouts were nowhere to be found. They were chasing other Arizona shortstops, especially Riley Unroe (second round, Rays), Dustin Peterson (second round, Padres), Jamie Westbrook (fifth round, Diamondbacks) and Colby Woodmansee (Arizona State).

A singles hitter who was 5-foot-11 and 170 pounds, like Zimmerman, wasn’t exactly a hot commodity.

Zimmerman, however, showed his worth at Mesa Community, hitting .378 his first year and earning an invitation to the Junior College All-Star Game in 2014.

Jake Boss Jr.

That’s where Graham Sikes, Michigan state’s recruiting coordinator, first saw Zimmerman — and was sold.

“Everything he hit was hard,” Boss said. “Even the outs he made he squared them up. The more people we talked to, the more guys kept raving about him. I wouldn’t say he fell through the cracks. He may not have been overly recruited. But there’s a lot of players out of Arizona. Certain parts of the country, there’s a lot of players that nobody really gets into.”

Zimmerman talked to about 15-20 schools after the All-Star Game, and got five offers he considered — Michigan State, Washington, Oregon, Utah and Florida International.

It came down to Washington and Michigan State.

The selling point? His visit to East Lansing was for the 2014 football game between Michigan and Michigan State.

“I kind of fell in love,” Zimmerman said. “You get it all. You get football, you get basketball.”

The success of Michigan State football and basketball makes it much easier to sell other sports to recruits.

“No question,” Boss said. “When football is rolling and basketball is rolling, the atmosphere on campus is tremendous. That all plays into recruiting for us.”

Zimmerman — who grew to 6-1 and 190 pounds — is not just a singles hitter anymore. The power is there, evidenced by an extra-inning, walk-off home run against Oregon this month.

“I’m stealing more bases (10, in 14 attempts), and hitting balls off the fence and over the fence instead of line-drive singles,” Zimmerman said.

Zimmerman’s hitting steak of 20 games is more than halfway to the school record of 33 set by Ryan Jones in 2012.

But, he said he’s not thinking much about that. Zimmerman, who has four homers and nine doubles, is just trying to make good contact, knowing there will be a day when he goes 0-for-4 despite hitting four balls hard.

Defensively, he’s playing first base, out of necessity because of injuries. He prefers second base because he can show off his speed.

“The sky’s the limit for him,” Boss said. “He doesn’t get himself out a whole lot.”

Michigan at Michigan State

First pitch: 4 p.m. Tuesday, McLane Baseball Stadium, East Lansing

Records: Michigan 21-6 (5-1 Big Ten), Michigan State 21-8 (3-2)

Outlook: This is a nonconference game. ... The teams play a conference series later this season. ... Michigan State plays Central Michigan at Comerica Park on Wednesday night.