District on Deck’s 2012 Top 15 Nationals Prospects: #13 Cole Kimball
By Aaron Somers
Name: Cole Kimball
Date of Birth: August 1, 1985
Kimball was originally drafted by the Nationals in 2006. He was selected in the 12th Round (pick #361 overall) out of Centenary College, a junior college located in Kimball’s hometown (Hackettstown, NJ). Kimball is one of four players to reach the Major Leagues from the 12th Round of the 2006 Draft, joining Angels closer Jordan Walden, Royals reliever Everett Teaford, and Cardinals catcher David Carpenter. He is also one of two players ever to be drafted out of Centenary College, but the first to have any true success after signing. After signing his first professional contract just six days after the draft, Kimball was assigned to the organization’s Low-A affiliate, the Vermont Lake Monsters of the NY-Penn League.
Vermont would be Kimball’s home for the remainder of the 2006 season and all of the 2007 season. Over the course of the two seasons he would appear in 30 games (including 18 starts) and pitched a total of 98.1 innings. He posted a 4-10 record, 4.76 ERA, 9.2 K/9, and 5.9 BB/9. He also hit 7 batters and threw 19 wild pitches, an indication that control was going to be an area he would need to develop in order to advance his career.
Despite some struggles, Kimball did show some signs of improvement as he repeated Low-A in 2007, at least enough so the organization moved him up a level the next season in order to keep him facing equal competition. In 2008, with the Hagerstown Suns, Kimball saw a dramatic increase in his workload. He made 27 starts on the season, pitching 128.1 innings in total (a career high), and finished with a 6-8 record and 5.05 ERA. While he was allowing roughly 1.5 H/9 fewer than he had the two previous seasons, Kimball’s control was still an area of concern. He limited the wild pitches to just 16, despite the increased workload, but hit 17 batters and allowed 5.8 BB/9.
Once again, despite some inconsistencies the previous season, Kimball was promoted for the 2009 season, to High-A Potomac. However, unlike previous seasons Kimball found himself working primarily out of the bullpen rather than the starting rotation. The adjustment seemed to be a struggle early on, but he noticeably grew more comfortable in the role as the season progressed, eventually moving into the team’s closer spot. In 39 appearances the right-hander would pitch 46.2 innings. He’d finish with a 4-5 record, 6.36 ERA, and 9 saves. Kimball raised his K/9 rate to 10.0 and significantly reduced the numbers of batters he hit (just 2). His BB/9 rate, however, remained high at 5.4.
The 2010 season would prove to be the year that Kimball would finally begin to emerge as the prospect we view him as today. He began the season once again with Potomac. However, after posting a 3-0 record, 6 saves, and 1.82 ERA in 24.2 innings of work he was promoted to Double-A for the first time. Over the remainder of the season with Harrisburg, Kimball was able to dominate the Eastern League opposition. In 38 appearances he threw a total of 54.0 innings, finishing with a 5-1 record, 12 saves, 2.33 ERA, and 12.3 K/9. He still was having some control concerns (5.2 BB/9) but it seemed he was finally learning to pitch around the walks, limiting how much they hindered his ability to get outs.
2011 would prove to be a chaotic season for Kimball. Coming off of a strong showing the previous season at Double-A and a decent Spring Training, the Nationals opted to have Kimball begin the season with Triple-A Syracuse. The reliever would make just 12 appearances for the Chiefs, posting a 1-0 record and 0.00 ERA in 13.2 innings, before being called up to Washington in mid-May. Kimball would make his MLB Debut on May 14, 2011 – pitching a scoreless 9th inning of a 1-0 Nationals loss at the Marlins.
He would remain in the Nationals’ bullpen, making 11 more appearances before mid-June. Kimball would be shut down at that point in time, due to necessary surgery on a torn rotator cuff. He’d finish the injury-shortened season with 12 appearances (14.0 innings), a 1-0 record, 1.93 ERA, 11 walks and 11 strikeouts. Most expect that he will be out until at least midway through the 2012 season
Top Prospect Rankings
Baseball America (Top 10): Unranked
MLB.com (Top 10): 9th
FanGraphs (Top 15): Unranked
Seedlings to Stars (MLB Top 100): Unranked
DoD Editor Aaron Somers (Top 15): 12th
DoD Staff Writer Michael Natelli (Top 15): 5th
DoD Staff Writer Andrew Flax (Top 15): Unranked
Courtesy of MLB.com:
"A 2009 move to the bullpen has been just the right thing for the power throwing right hander. It all came together in 2010, when he had a 2.17 ERA across two levels, saved 18 games, struck out 11.6 per nine innings, and held hitters to a .182 average, all before completely dominating hitters in the Arizona Fall League."
Profiling as a late game reliever, Kimball’s strong ability to strike batters out will prove to be a viable asset. Throughout much of his minor league career he’s averaged a strikeout per inning. In addition, the fact that Kimball was worked in a closer’s role for much of the past two full minor league seasons also works to his advantage. Kimball has become accustomed to the mindset it takes to close games out, to pitch in high pressure situations. This experience should help him adjust to life in the Major Leagues and to the pressures of pitching in a setup role for this bullpen.
Control is an obvious concern here, just looking through Kimball’s track record in the minor leagues. Walks have plagued him at each level, though he did seemingly learn to pitch around the walks as he progressed up the minor league ranks. Early on his career he also hit too many batters and threw too many wild pitches, though both concerns seem to be under control at this point in time. Yet, in order for Kimball to have a successful MLB career he is going to need to cut back on the walks, limiting his pitch counts and letting him pitch ahead of batters more frequently.
2012 and Beyond Expectations
Kimball’s chaotic 2011 season continued just recently, as the now 26 year old briefly changed teams in early November. Prior to the MLB 40-man roster cutoff deadline, the Nationals attempted to slip Kimball through waivers in order to try and free up an extra roster opening. Due to his injury the team knew he would not be able to pitch for a number of months, and there seemed to be a chance that perhaps another organization would not risk a claim because of that. However, the Toronto Blue Jays claimed Kimball, knowing they’d have to keep him on their own 40-man roster while he recovers. Two days later they too tried to sneak Kimball past the other organizations and off their 40-man roster before the deadline, but Washington was able to re-claim the right-hander.
As we’ve mentioned, Kimball is likely out until at least mid-2012. At that point in time his role will likely depend on how the existing Nationals bullpen has performed without him. Most projections have Kimball developing into a reliable piece at the back end of the bullpen, likely a setup role here in Washington considering the existence of Drew Storen as closer. However, considering he only has 14.0 innings of MLB experience under his belt to date, it would seem wise to ratchet back that expectation, at least for the interim. It seems likely that once Kimball returns to full health, he will be given the opportunity to step into a middle relief role with the Nationals’ bullpen. His continued development will determine what track his career takes beyond.