Lake Buena Vista, Fla. – Craig Kimbrel will begin the season as a closer at Class AAA Gwinnett, but Braves manager Bobby Cox said the hard-throwing prospect could soon be with the big club.
“I think so,” Cox said. “If he gets it together. He’s a strikeout guy. He can come on and strike you out.”
Projected as a future closer, Kimbrel, 21, has allowed only three hits in seven scoreless appearances this spring, with 10 strikeouts in seven innings.
While he has issued six walks, Cox said the right-hander hasn’t been plagued with erratic control like he was at times during two minor league seasons.
“I don’t think [his command] has been bad at all,” Cox said. “In the bullpens he was always good. That’s where you get a good look at how guys repeat pitches, things like that….
“I haven’t looked at his stats, but for me, with just my eyes – I haven’t looked at stats in spring training – I like him.”
Cox talked to Kimbrel on Tuesday and told him how he’d be used at Gwinnett, including some two-inning stints to give him a better opportunity to work on sharpening all his pitches.
He has 159 strikeouts and 60 walks in 95-1/3 innings in the minors, but has pitched only 13-2/3 innings above Class A.
“Just needs to get out there and [pitch],” Cox said.
Kimbrel won the Phil Niekro Award as the top pitcher in the farm system in 2009, when he pitched for four Braves affiliates and had 18 saves, a 2.85 ERA and 103 strikeouts with 45 walks in 49 appearances.
Cox said Kimbrel and the other 35 Braves still on the camp roster would remain with the team for the final exhibition games Friday and Saturday against the Chicago White Sox at Turner Field.
The final roster cuts will be made in Atlanta to get the Braves’ roster to 25 before Monday’s season opener against the Chicago Cubs at Turner Field.
Since veteran Scott Proctor is expected to spend two or three weeks at Gwinnett — he’s not quite 11 months into recovery from “Tommy John” elbow surgery — before he’s added to the 25-man roster, there are presumably three competing for the final two bullpen spots: right-hander Jesse Chavez and lefties Jo-Jo Reyes and Jonny Venters.
Chavez is expected to get one of those jobs.