Atlanta Braves Top 30 Prospects: No. 7, Craig Kimbrel

7. Craig Kimbrel, RHP
B/T: R/R 2011 Age: 23 Ht: 5'11" Wt: 205
2010: (AAA)
48 G, 55.2 IP, 1.62 ERA, 5.7 BB/9, 13.4 K/9, 0.5 HR/9
(MLB) 21 G, 20.2 IP, 0.44 ERA, 7 BB/9, 17.4 K/9, 0.0 HR/9

Craig Kimbrel was selected by the Braves in the third round in 2008 out of Wallace State Community College. He rocketed through the minors, reached the majors in 2010 and is projected as the closer in 2011. But he's not without his weaknesses.

Kimbrel put up a 1.62 ERA in 55.2 innings for AAA Gwinnett, but a 5.7 BB/9 resulted in a 3.02 FIP. It was the same story in his 20.2 innings for the big league club, as he put up a 7 BB/9. This is a trend we have seen from Kimbrel since he was drafted. His average BB/9 as a minor leaguer is 5.7. However, his K/9 as a minor leaguer is 14.4.

Kimbrel's story is pretty basic. He will rack up strikeouts at a remarkable rate and keep the ball in the park, but he will also struggle with control and suffer the occasional implosion. The fact that he walks so many is alarming and may prevent him from being an elite closer, but the fact that he can strike out batters at a rate of over 14 per nine with regularity will give him every chance to succeed.

Kimbrel has been described as a right-handed Billy Wagner. He is short but thick, and he can ride his fastball up into the high-90s with the occasional 100 MPH. He also has a great breaking pitch, though it isn't as lethal as Wagner's slider. He uses the fastball to set it up and get maximum success from it. The one big difference between Kimbrel and Wagner is mechanics. Wagner had a violent whipping motion that put incredible stress on his elbow, but Kimbrel has fluid motion through the delivery, and his landing is very smooth.

Kimbrel will be given the opportunity to take most of the saves for the Braves in 2011, and he could get them all if he starts out hot. But expect plenty walks and tight situations. If you get down on him due to blown saves from control issues, you obviously aren't aware of who this guy is. I will continue to have concern as to how successful he can be over a full major league season, but there's no denying the potential.

Three Things to Look For in 2011: 1) Walks 2) High Leverage Situations 3) Full Season Patience
Destination in 2011: MLB
Ceiling: Top Five Closer
My Prediction: Brief Stints in Top Five

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