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Blue Jays claim Cole Kimball off waivers from Washington Nationals

Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos added some intriguing bullpen depth a few hours ago, claiming hard-throwing right-handed reliever Cole Kimball off waivers from the Washington Nationals.

Image courtesy of BallparkGuys.com

Kimball, 26, finished the year on the disabled list after undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in July and won’t return to action until at least midway through the 2012 season, likely around the All-Star break.

Since all players must be off the disabled list and either on the 40-man roster or in the minor leagues by Friday, the Nats were hoping to squeeze Kimball through the waiver wire to Triple-A to clear a spot on their 40-man roster. At that point, Anthopoulos swooped in and claimed the right-hander in what could prove to be a lucrative move down the road.

Kimball, a 12th round pick by the Nats in 2006, started out his minor league career as a starter before shifting to the bullpen full-time in 2009. With that relief season under his belt, the Brooklyn native broke out in 2010, going 8-1 with a 2.17 ERA in 78.2 innings split between Hi-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg with 101 strikeouts (11.6 K/9).

The Nats opted to send Kimball to the Arizona Fall League last year following his standout season, and all he did there was allow eight hits and one earned run while striking out 15 in 12 innings.

Kimball’s dominant showing in the AFL earned him a spot on the Nats’ 40-man roster, and he was so excited when pitchers and catchers reported in spring training this year that “he couldn’t sleep the night before pitchers and catchers were scheduled to report, so, as the Nats’ PR department on Twitter (@NationalsPR) wrote back in February, he decided to just go to the Nats’ training facilities at 5:00 a.m. that first day,” says Federal Baseball.

Even though he impressed everyone in spring training and was thought to have had a legitimate opportunity to make the Nats’ roster, Kimball opened the year with Triple-A Syracuse (remember them?) and suffered shoulder stiffness shortly into the season. When he was called up to make his big league debut on May 14, the unreported discomfort in his shoulder only got worse, eventually affecting his mechanics and leading him to walk 11 hitters in 14 Major League innings. When he finally said something about his shoulder, Kimball was put on the DL before undergoing his surgery a few weeks later.

Looking at Kimball, there’s good reason to be excited about him. While it will remain to be seen whether or not he can bounce back from his injury, it will bode well for the Jays’ bullpen if he can.

Toeing the rubber at 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds, Kimball’s most obvious pitch is his fastball that he throws anywhere between 93 and 98 mph. In fact, Baseball America considered Kimball’s fastball to be the best in the Nats’ system when they ranked him as the organization’s seventh-best prospect at the end of 2010.

Kimball’s biggest weapon, though, is his devastating 83-87 mph splitter, which constantly misses bats and already has the potential to be a plus plus pitch. Complementing these two offerings is his low-80s curveball that will keep hitters honest and help him get ahead in the count, but there’s certainly room to improve the pitch.

The main knock on Kimball is his inability to find the strike zone sometimes , as he has averaged 5.5 walks per nine minor league innings, though this isn’t exactly uncommon in young power pitchers (see Brandon Morrow from 2008-2010). More glaring, though, are Kimball’s 33 hit batters and 61 wild pitches in 365 career minor league innings.

Depending on how high Anthopoulos is on the youngster, the addition of Kimball could affect how long the Jays are willing to commit to a closer this offseason. Kimball’s fierce competitiveness and aggressive demeanor on the mound initially projected him to be a setup man in front of Drew Storen in Washington, but as a closer in any other situation. Regardless of his future role with the team, Kimball represents an astute pickup by Anthopoulos.

– JM

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Tags: Cole Kimball Toronto Blue Jays Washington Nationals

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