Washington Nationals' right-handed relievers Cole Kimball (left, no.65) and Joe Bisenius (no. 46) throwing bullpen sessions in Viera, FL. (photo courtesy of @NationalsPR on Twitter.)
The story of how one-time starting pitcher Cole Kimball became a reliever starts with an oblique injury the then-23-year-old Brooklyn-born pitcher suffered during Spring Training of 2009. Forced to rehab with the Nats' prospects in Viera, Florida, as the right-hander explained to Geoff Morrow of The Patriot-News in an August 15, 2010 article entitled, "Commentary: Cole Kimball provides the Harrisburg Senators serious attitude", Kimball, who'd started 45 of his first 58 games in the Nats' system, grew tired of being around teenagers and asked to be moved to the bullpen in order to hasten his departure from the Nats' spring training complex.
"I wanted to get the heck out of Florida," Kimball told The Patriot-News' Mr. Morrow, "so I told them to make me a reliever so I could get out of there faster. There were a lot of young kids. I was miserable."
Kimball was drafted in the 12th Round of the '06 First-Year Player Draft after two years in Centenary College in Hackettstown, NJ in which Kimball, "went 11-9 with a 3.70 ERA, striking out 139 (9.18 K/9) in 136.1 innings," as the Centenary Cyclones' website noted in an article on Kimball's inclusion on the Nats' 40-Man Roster this winter. Kimball finished his time at the college "[ranked] third in program history in strikeouts and fourth in ERA."
The right-handed pitcher struck out 52 (10.03 K/9), walked 39 (5.40 BB/9) and saved nine while posting a 6.36 ERA and a 4.01 FIP in 39 games and 46.2 IP in his first season as a reliever with the Class-A Potomac Nationals in '09, and he jumped from the P-Nats to the Double-A Harrisburg Senators last season after winning three, saving six and striking out 27 (9.85 K/9) in 24.2 IP for Potomac. In Harrisburg, Kimball was (5-1) with 12 saves in 38 games and 54.0 IP in which he walked 31 (5.17 BB/9) and struck out 74 (12.33 K/9). Pitching alongside a group of relievers including, "[Adam] Carr, [Zech] Zinicola, [Rafael] Martin, [Jack] Spradlin," each of whom, "...threw 90+ [and]wanted to hurt you," as Kimball told the Patriot-News' reporter, he became the closer, "because people got hurt or were [promoted]", and found it fit his personality.
After the 2010 minor league season, Kimball went to the Arizona Fall League where he had a 0.75 ERA and one save in eleven games in which he gave up just eight hits, one earned run and two walks while recording 15 K's in 12.0 IP. The Nats' Assistant GM and Vice President of Player Development, Bob Boone, was impressed with what he saw from Kimball in the AFL, telling MLB Network Radio hosts Casey Stern and Jim Bowden this winter on Inside Pitch that the 6'3'', 235 lb righty, "can really fire it," and, "I think has a good chance of making that club next year."
Kimball cracked the Top 10 after the 2010 campaign, when the now-25-year-old right-hander was ranked as the Nats' 7th best prospect with the "Best Fastball" in the Nats' system according to Baseball America's Aaron Fitt. Mr. Fitt, in an interview with MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr for an article entitled, "Nats' top prospects - No. 7: Cole Kimball", said Kimball's "stuff is electric," and described the right-hander as having, "a 95 to 98 mph fastball...a devastating split-fingered fastball at times... a decent curveball," and, "everything you really want in a power, late-innings reliever." The Baseball America writer also called Kimball, "One of the great stories of the Nationals' player development system,":
"'He came into the system as an arm-strength guy, a raw thrower, and he really didn't know how to pitch. He was kind of off the map there for a few years and then just kind of exploded on the scene.'"
Mr. Fitt's colleague with Baseball America, Jim Callis (@JimCallisBA) responded to a question on Twitter last week by saying when asked if Kimball could be a major league closer, that he didn't, "...think Kimball's command is that good," so he saw him as having, "More of a set-up ceiling." Kimball couldn't wait to get the 2011 season started, was eager to begin throwing, and according to the Nats' offical Twitter (@NationalsPR), "was so excited about his first day as a big leaguer he couldn't sleep last night and arrived to the stadium at 5am," on his first day last week.
Kimball's caught the attention of just about everyone in Florida this Spring. Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) wrote on Twitter that Kimball's fastball was so hard, "You might have heard the catcher's mitt from D.C. Damn." In a Nationals Journal post wrapping up yesterday's events entitled, "Chien-Ming Wang makes a change, Cole Kimball throws heat, Ross Detwiler looks good", the WaPost writer quoted Nats' Pitching Coach Steve McCatty saying Kimball was, "..a monster,":
"You tell them to start warming up, and he throws one 95. He grips it and rips it. He's like the John Daly of pitchers."
"'He is completely focused," Potomac Pitching Coach Paul Menhart told MASNSports.com's Byron Kerr earlier this winter in an article entitled, "Kimball confident for next step to big leagues," and, "His number one goal after getting drafted was not only to make it to the big leagues, but be successful in the big leagues." Though he's likely to start the season back in the Nats' system, there's a good chance Kimball will make his major league debut in 2011, adding another power arm to an already strong Nats' bullpen. Though Bryce Harper's Spring Training debut got the headlines, it was Kimball's fastball that turned heads Monday in Viera.