Atlanta Braves

2011 Fantasy Baseball Sleeper Alert: Craig Kimbrel

KISSIMMEE, FL - FEBRUARY 26:  Craig Kimbrel #72 of the Atlanta Braves poses during photo day at Champions Stadium on February 26, 2010 in Kissimmee, Florida.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Andrew SwansonContributor IIJanuary 25, 2011

It is the goal of every professional athlete to leave their respective sport on their own terms, riding off into the sunset on the heels of a championship season filled with praise and accolades. This was not the case for Billy Wagner, as his 16-year baseball career ended in pain and frustration last October as his Atlanta Braves fell to the San Francisco Giants in the 2010 MLB playoffs.

Wagner attempted to play through a painful hip injury that plagued him over the latter part of his career, but was unable to continue and his Braves failed to stay afloat in the playoffs.

The player who may be asked to fill Wagner’s shoes is Craig Kimbrel, a powerful young reliever who embodies similar stuff to his predecessor, including a high 90s fastball and a knee buckling slider. Drafted in the third round of the 2008 amateur draft, Kimbrel quickly made his way to the majors primarily due to his blazing fastball and his ability to strike batters out late in games.

He made his debut on May 7, and went on to pitch in 21 games for the Braves, posting an impressive 0.44 ERA with an amazing 17.4 K/9 ratio. He was a vital piece of a Braves bullpen that provided excellent support for Tim Hudson and Derek Lowe.

The two biggest knocks against Kimbrel are his high walk rate and youth, two things that are typically red flags for closers. If given the closer role, how well will the 22-year old pitcher handle the pressure? Will he continue to mow down opponents while raking up strikeouts at an amazing rate, or will he crumble under the pressure, forcing Fredi Gonzalez to demote him to a set-up role?

Only time will tell. 

I recently published an article titled A Beginner’s Guide to Fantasy Baseball in which I shared a few strategies for novice fantasy players. One topic that I touched on is the theory that it is okay to wait on closers in the draft, as there is value late and teams change closers quite regularly throughout the season. In the case of Craig Kimbrel, I recommend targeting him late in your draft as a sleeper pick. 

The casual player may not be aware of Wagner’s retirement, opening the door for educated fantasy players to cash in on a potential diamond in the rough. With that said, I do not advise drafting Kimbrel as a number-one or number-two closer, as there are too many unknowns for a fantasy owner to rely on such a young and unproven player.

This article was originally published on www.kramericasports.com, the home of free fantasy news, rankings, and advice.

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