Another Braves Farmhand: Craig Kimbrel

 

Kimbrel: The Pride of Wallace State

Why? Because we’re not running a freaking Rays blog. That’s why.

It has recently come to my attention that throwing out Jason Heyward in a discussion of top prospects makes for a pretty short discussion, especially when couched in the “well who do you got?” debate. I guess I could argue with a Nats fan. But the top of this list starts with Heyward and ends with Stephen Strasburg. And there’s no middleman. Heyward, Strasburg. Strasburg, Heyward. That’s the list. I think this is pretty clear.

So when Bryan Holt responded to my first of many Heyward posts with a piece about Rays potential fifth starter Wade Davis, I felt a little embarrassed, ashamed of myself even– like I’d just belted the piñata with the first swing or dunked in a pickup game with cripples (this has never actually happened). 

The Ja-Hey Kid’s rocking a 1.398 OPS this spring. He’s drawn nine walks in 31 plate appearances. He hit his first spring homer 450-plus feet over a couple of dumbfounded batting cages in the boondocks behind Champions Stadium. Jim Leyland promptly compared him to Albert Pujols, and the Phils offered Ryan Howard soon after.

Hell, if I was the kind of jackass who closed an argument with “’nuff said,” I’d just go ahead and drop a ‘nuff said on you. I mean, God bless Wade Davis, but best case scenario, he’s a back of the rotation guy on the third best team in a division. Heyward’s got bigger fish to fry, and one of those fish just told me that it feels like a prisoner on death row.

(Important Note: I reserve the right to redact the first four paragraphs should Heyward’s career arc resemble that of Ryan Klesko’s. Also, say what you want about Sports Casualties’ journalistic integrity, but know that personified fish aren’t talking to anybody else.)

Like Klesko, except the exact opposite.

Admittedly, it seems unfair to play the Heyward card so soon, and in my remorse, I did a little digging into the Braves farm system. By “a little digging,” I of course mean “checked my Facebook feed.”

So let’s talk about reliever Craig Kimbrel, Atlanta’s fifth overall prospect according to the Kurkjian bible that is Baseball America.

For starters, he’s a smirfly 5-foot-9-inch flamethrower that clocks in around 96 mph. Of course, should you go by Baseball Reference, he’s actually 2 inches taller (accounting for spikes, perhaps). And should you go by MLB.com’s Mark Bowman, he occasionally spells his name with two l’s. Takeaway: Kimbrel throws in the mid to high 90s.  

Bowman labeled him as the “right-landed Billy Wagner,” which presumably means he’s something of a right-handed Billy Wagner, the current Atlanta closer who Braves fans and Sports Casualtists alike affectionately refer to as “Billy Wagner’s Decomposing Elbow,” or simply “The Remains of Billy Wagner.” Takeaway: when Wagner’s arm detaches in late May, Braves GM Frank Wren will ask the Rays to give total stud Rafael Soriano back. But Kimbrel would be a likely call-up candidate should the Rays decline.

There seem to be a lot of question marks/crappy fact checkers surrounding the 21-year-old, but we know one thing with absolute certainty. He looks like the token Irish dude in a Guy Ritchie film.

Also, he throws a devastating fastball that gives a rising illusion as it nears the plate – much like that of Byung-Hyun Kim’s, only with a tendency to stay in the yard. He’s got a violent motion, too, in which he lunges downward from the rubber, releases from a three-quarter angle, and plants his left leg short and hard, resulting in a Gibson-esque roundkick finish.

Pictures: bad at conveying throwing motion.

In 2009, he struck out an ungodly 103 and gave up just 30 hits in 60 innings of work between A-ball Rome and Triple-A Gwinnett (2 IP). Despite his “rising” movement, Kimbrel keeps the ball down. He allowed two home runs en route to a 2.85 ERA.

Bobby Cox, for one, is a huge fan and speaks of Kimbrel with the same longing and retroactive nostalgia that high school seniors reserve for the hot girl in the incoming freshmen class.

“That ball of his jumps at you,” the Braves manager tells MLB.com. “A scientist will tell you it’s an illusion, but it does come up a little bit… When he’s throwing strikes, he’s very impressive.”

Um, yeah, about that last part. Kimbrel’s kryptonite is the strike zone, as evidenced by last year’s 45 walks.

A hundred strikeouts? Studly. A 2.29 strikeouts-to-walks ratio? Not exactly bowling over The Talented Mr. Roto. Kimbrel has the control of a 4-year-old on speed. And my father, if he is reading this, is thinking of one-time Orioles closer Randy Myers right now.

Myers comparisons do not bode well for a long-term role in the ninth.

Kimbrel’s shown an encouraging command of the plate this spring, walking only three thus far. He’s pitched four innings, but still. Baby steps. Plus, the “0.00 ERA” looks good next to his name.

Like Gibson, only whiter and not as good.

A couple of final thoughts in the interest of bringing this puppy full circle. First, I very much yearn for the days of Chris Hammond, Mike Remlinger and, yes, even Kerry “Muttonchops” Ligtenberg. There’s nothing – and I mean nothing – more aggravating than a bad bullpen. It’s like busting your ass all semester only to blow months of hard work come finals. Difference is, Eric O’Flaherty hasn’t been drinking, or at least I don’t think he has. The way Eric pitches, you can’t be sure.

Will Kimbrel be the next John Smoltz? Probably not. But he sure as hell can be an upgrade over the criminally overrated Mike Gonzalez. (Enjoy Mike in Baltimore, Pops! He’s a head case.)

And secondly, and returning to my favorite subject, I’d like to recount a quick Heyward story courtesy of this morning’s Digital Online Learning Class. My friend Patrick – hardcore Phillies fan, former writer for the Philly Enquirer – spent spring break in Clearwater taking baseball pics for his master’s project. He offered this Heyward scouting report, totally unprovoked, from Braves-Phils a couple weeks ago: “I mean, you expect power from a guy that big. But oh my god, he looks like a young Jimmy Rollins on the base paths.”

Please, Frank. Don’t screw this up.

– Robbie

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Another Braves Farmhand: Craig Kimbrel

  1. 1: Craig’s over 5’9″…closer to 5’11”.
    2: He never spells his name with two ‘l’s. Only people who don’t do their homework do.
    3: If you’re not writing a “rays-blog”, then why did you include this: “But Kimbrel would be a likely call-up candidate should the Rays decline.”
    4: Thru an inning, Craig’s fastball gets faster. His last pitch in several of his minor-league appearances rang up a 98 on the radar.

    Tw

    • Hmmm, Tom. Either you should read more carefully or I need to dial down the sarcasm, and I’m leaning toward the former. Re: your first two points… I was referring to a less than perfectly edited feature on Kimbrel that both called him “Kimbrell” and had him listed at 5’9″. Check the link. It’s kind of the definitive article about him so far, so I thought I should reference it.

      I would also recommend rereading the lines leading up to “But Kimbrel would be a likely call-up candidate should the Rays decline.” Little Frank Wren joke for you.

      I do, however, appreciate the fourth point. Nice scouting reporting. And thanks for reading.

  2. Pingback: A Different Breed of Braves « Sports Casualties

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