The Braves haven't developed a closer since John Rocker, a decade ago. Is Craig Kimbrel the next one?

PLAYER: Craig Kimbrell
SIZE: 6'0", 200
BORN: May 28, 1988 in Huntsville, Alabama
LIVES: Huntsville, Alabama
SCHOOL: Wallace State Community College in Alabama

Craig was drafted in the third round (96th overall pick) of the June 2008 free agent draft. He was signed by Braves scout Brian Bridges for $391,000.

Kimbrel is a potential future closer with a fastball that is consistently in the mid-90s. He's touched 99 before, so he's just a hard thrower. He's also got a very hard slider that is his best breaking ball. The slider is very sharp, and he just has to manage it carefully. There's also an occasional changeup. Kimbrel's arm slot is a bit higher than Joey Devine, but he is a sidearmer.

He saw action at the top four levels of the Braves farm system, and the overall numbers are impressive: 103 strikeouts in 60 innings pitched. His walks were too high, with 45, but the control issues did improve. Kimbrel started the season in Myrtle Beach, but after a 10.97 ERA in 8 games, and 18 walks in 10.2 innings, the Braves sent Kimbrel to Rome. That's where he got on track, and stayed in the Sally League for seven weeks. Kimbrel had a 0.90 in 16 games, and an unbelievable 38 strikeouts in 20 innings. Kimbrel's control improved too, as he walked only six batters. So the Braves sent him back to Myrtle Beach, where Kimbrel stayed for about a month. Kimbrel had a 1.73 ERA in his 11 games back for the Pelicans, and then the Braves sent him to Double-A Mississippi. Kimbrel would then post a 0.77 ERA in 12 games in the Southern League, with seven walks, and 17 strikeouts in 11.2 innings. Kimbrel then went to Gwinnett and pitched in two games, walking four and striking out three in two innings. The Braves wanted him to get a little more work, so they sent him to the AFL, where the results were unimpressive. Kimbrel had an ERA of 10.45, with 16 walks, and 18 strikeouts in 10.1 innings pitched.

Ok, so we know Kimbrel walks too many batters. That's a concern, although the periods of the season when he cut down on the walks was a good sign. But the strikeout totals for Kimbrel show you that he has outstanding potential. Scouts say the key for Kimbrel is for him to have consistency with his release point. So he just has to spend time refining his mechanics. There's a good chance Kimbrel will start 2010 in Triple-A Gwinnett, as the Braves want to push him a bit after he did so well in Mississippi last year. Kimbrel will be in big league camp, so Bobby Cox will be able to see a kid that could be a factor for him in the Atlanta bullpen before the season is over. Closers are hard to develop, but Kimbrel may be the best true closing prospect this team has had in years.

Bill Shanks hosts The Bill Shanks Show on WFSM Fox Sports 1670 in Macon, Georgia and The Braves Show Talk Show. Shanks writes a weekly baseball column for The Macon Telegraph and is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team. You can email Bill at and follow him on Twitter at

Atlanta Dugout Top Stories