Craig Kimbrel turned some heads during the NLDS against the Giants in October and now that Billy Wagner has retired, the 22-year-old right-hander is ready to compete with Jonny Venters for the closer role during spring training.
Kimbrel told Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that he is confident he can handle closing duties in 2011, but is open to whatever role new Braves skipper Fredi Gonzalez has in mind for him.
“There was never really a point last year where I didn’t think I could do it,” Kimbrel said. “I can’t go on the mound and think ‘I can’t do it,’ because then I’ll be in a losing situation.”
“I’m looking at it like it doesn’t matter what role I have, if I’m in the big leagues I’m happy,” he said. “But if I just go out there and focus more on pitching well, good things will happen.”
Kimbrel, a former 2007 third-round pick, dominated his way up the organizational ladder by posting a 1.85 ERA over 121 minor league relief appearances, averaging 14.4 K/9. He turned in a miniscule 0.40 ERA and 40 strikeouts over 20 2/3 innings with the Braves during the regular season in 2010. While he has electric stuff, he also averaged 5.7 BB/9 in the minors and issued 16 walks during his brief time with the Braves last season.
Carlos Marmol has proven that closers can be very successful without elite control, but it obviously takes a pretty special one in order to do it. This isn’t to say that Kimbrel can’t be that guy, but Venters is a pretty nice safety net.