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Craig Kimbrel

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Craig Michael Kimbrel

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[edit] Biographical Information

Craig Kimbrel debuted in the majors in 2010. Because of his small size and explosive fastball, he has been compared to Billy Wagner.

Kimbrel was taken by the Atlanta Braves in the third round of the 2008 amateur draft and signed with scout Brian Bridges for a $391,000 bonus; he was the 4th straight pitcher taken by Atlanta in that draft. He made his pro debut with the Danville Braves and did very well (1-2, 6 Sv, 0.47, 5 H, 27 K in 19 IP). Promoted to the Rome Braves (2-0, 4 Sv, 0.71, 6 H, 26 K in 12 2/3 IP) and Myrtle Beach Pelicans (0 R in 3 2/3 IP), he wrapped up an excellent first summer in pro baseball. He allowed a .131 average overall with a 0.51 ERA and 56 K in 25 1/3 IP. Baseball America rated the man fresh from junior college as Atlant's #10 prospect and possessing the best fastball in their system. They also ranked him as the Appalachian League's #14 prospect.

Kimbrel jumped up three levels in 2009, going 2-3 with 18 saves in 18 opportunities, 103 strikeouts in 60 innings and a 2.85 ERA. His big problem was control as he threw 14 wild pitches and issued 45 walks. He pitched for the Pelicans (0-2, 2 Sv, 5.47, 28 BB, 45 K in 26 1/3 IP), Rome (10 Sv, 0.90, 9 H, 38 K in 20 IP), the Mississippi Braves (2-1, 6 Sv, 0.77, 3 H, 17 K in 11 2/3 IP) and the Gwinnett Braves (0 R in 2 IP, 4 BB, 3 K). He was named the top pitcher in the Atlanta chain. Despite pitching solely in relief, he was 9th in the Braves system in Ks. Only one minor league reliever topped his 15.45 K per 9 innings (Dan Remenowsky, 15.49). He allowed a .150 average, 7th-lowest in the affiliated minors. Baseball America rated him as having the best fastball in A ball that year and as Atlanta's #5 prospect. He struggled with the Peoria Saguaros in the Arizona Fall League, with a 0-1, 10.45 record. He whiffed 18 in 10 1/3 innings but walked 16.

Craig began 2010 with the Gwinnett club and had a 1.20 ERA and six saves after 11 games, with 21 strikeouts in 15 innings and only 7 hits allowed. When Jair Jurrjens went on the disabled list, the Huntsville, AL native was called up to The Show. In his major league debut on May 7, he relieved fellow rookie Jonny Venters in the bottom of the 7th with a 7-0 deficit against the Philadelphia Phillies and Jamie Moyer (over twice Kimbrel's age). Jayson Werth greeted Kimbrel to the majors with a double. He struck out Raúl Ibáñez and threw a wild pitch, sending Werth to third. Carlos Ruiz whiffed, then Wilson Valdez grounded out. Jesse Chavez would relieve Kimbrel in the 8th. The two strikeouts in his first outing were a harbinger of things to come for Kimbrel: in 22 games, he faced 88 batters and struck out 40 of them. He went 4-0 with a sparkling 0.44 ERA and 1 save. However, in the NLDS against the San Francisco Giants, he was charged with a loss in four appearances, even though he gave up only 1 hit and 1 walk in 4 1/3 innings while striking out 7.

After Billy Wagner retired, Kimbrel was anointed as the Braves' closer heading into the 2011 season. Setting the tone for the season, he earned a save in his first two outings in his new role, facing the minimum 6 batters in 2 innings and striking out 5 of them. His excellence continued over the following months, as he set a rookie record by recording his 27th save before the All-Star break on July 7th, besting a mark established by Jonathan Papelbon in 2006. The National League record was 16, and he had surpassed that easily. He had successfully converted 27 of 32 opportunities at the time and was named the NL's Rookie of the Month for June, but it was his teammate, set-up man Jonny Venters who was selected for the Midsummer Classic. However, Kimbrel's name was later added to the NL roster as a replacement for Matt Cain. On August 23rd, he tied the rookie record set the previous year by Neftali Feliz by recording his 40th save of the year in a 5-4 win over the Chicago Cubs. He then set a new record on August 31st, preserving Derek Lowe's 3-1 win over the Washington Nationals. He was an obvious choice to be named the NL's Rookie of the Month for August, also picking up his first Delivery Man of the Month Award after having notched 10 saves in as many opportunities, not allowed a run and struck out 23 batters in 12 2/3 innings. He finished the year with 46 saves and a 2.10 ERA in 79 games, but faltered on the last day of the season, unable to hold a 3-2 9th-inning lead against the Philadelphia Phillies on September 28th as the Braves were passed by the St. Louis Cardinals for the wild card spot. Still, after the season he was honored with the 2011 National League Rookie of the Year Award. He was the first unanimous selection in the NL since Albert Pujols in 2001. The runner-up was Kimbrel's teammate, first baseman Freddie Freeman.

Kimbrel continued to be dominant in 2012, as the Braves made a successful bid to return to the post-season, he kept his ERA around 1.00 all year and on September 26th, became only the fourth Braves pitcher to strike out four batters in an inning, performing the feat against the Miami Marlins in preserving a 3-0 lead in the 9th inning for his 40th save of the season. Finishing out the season strongly, he won the Delivery Man of the Month Award in September. He finished the year 3-1, with a 1.01 ERA and a league-leading 42 saves, winning the 2012 Rolaids Relief Award while being named again to the All-Star team. Most impressively, he was the first pitcher in major league history to strike out over half of the batters he faced in a season, recording 116 K's in 62 2/3 innings and 231 batters faced, while giving up a ridiculous 27 hits and 14 walks in an utterly dominant performance. He pitched a perfect inning in the inaugural National League Wild Card Game, but did not record a save as the Braves were already trailing the St. Louis Cardinals, 6-3, when he took the mound in the top of the 9th inning and were unable to score any more runs.

Kimbrel was the closer for Team USA in the 2013 World Baseball Classic, going 0-1 with a 4.91 ERA and no saves in four games. In his first appearance, he closed out a 9-4 win over Team Canada. Relieving Steve Cishek, he fanned Tyson Gillies, retired Taylor Green then set down Joey Votto on strikes. He wrapped up a 7-1 win over Puerto Rico, retiring Carlos Beltran, giving up a hit to Yadier Molina but then getting Mike Aviles to hit into a twin killing. With a trip to the semifinals at stake, he entered against the Dominican national team with a 1-1 tie in the 9th, again succeeding Cishek. Nelson Cruz doubled (Kimbrel had allowed only one double in the majors in 2012) then retired Carlos Santana. Erick Aybar singled in Cruz with the winner, then stole second. Alejandro De Aza struck out but Jose Reyes singled in Aybar for insurance. Mitchell Boggs relieved Kimbrel. In his last game, Craig came on with a 4-3 9th-inning deficit against Puerto Rico with the other semifinal spot still a possibility. Relieving Heath Bell, he allowed a Luis Figueroa single but retired Angel Pagan, Jesus Feliciano and Beltran to escape further harm.

His 2013 season got off on the right foot, as he managed a hole-in-one in a charity golf tournament at the ChampionsGate Golf Course in Kissimmee, FL on February 18th. On May 9th, he recorded his 100th career save in a 6-3 win over the San Francisco Giants. He won a Delivery Man of the Month Award for the third straight year in August, when he was successful in all 12 of his save opportunities, also picking up a win in 16 1/3 scoreless innings. He finished the year with his now usual sparkling numbers, a 1.21 ERA in 68 games and 50 saves to go along with a 4-3 record. While his strikeout rate went down a little from its tremendous heights of previous years, it was still at over 13 batters per 9 innings, with 98 Ks (and only 20 walks) in 67 innings. In his only appearance in the NLDS that season, he pitched one and a third innings in Game 2 against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Game 2 on October 4th, walking 2 and striking out 2 while giving up no hits to save a 4-3 win credited to Mike Minor.

On February 16, 2014, the Braves signed Kimbrel to a four-year contract extension worth $42 million, with an option for a fifth season at $13 million. On May 18th, he became the youngest pitcher to record 150 saves, 10 days shy of his 26th birthday; he also needed fewer appearances (248) than any other pitcher to reach the mark. On May 31st, he became the Braves' all-time leader for saves, tied with John Smoltz, when he recorded #154 over the Miami Marlins. He set a new mark with his next save, on June 6th. He made the All-Star team for the fourth straight year. When he saved his 40th game of the year on August 29th, he became only the third pitcher to register that many in four consecutive seasons, after Trevor Hoffman and Francisco Rodriguez.

[edit] Notable Achievements


NL Rookie of the Year
2010 2011 2012
Buster Posey Craig Kimbrel Bryce Harper

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