Craig Kimbrel was officially introduced to the media in a Friday afternoon press conference, donning a No. 24 jersey as he answered questions next to Theo Epstein. The newest Cub seemed relaxed as he discussed the nature of his recent courtship, though it was actually the potential excitement of pitching in front of a full crowd every night that helped him make his decision.
In fact, Kimbrel made it sound as though the Cubs were his top choice all along. While that seems like an obvious way to position such a decision in an introductory presser, it’s clear from the outside that things moved really quickly once the Cubs got involved. The closer admitted as much and was admittedly blunt in a text to former teammate Jason Heyward.
“All I want to know is where to live and what number to wear,” Kimbrel replied to a Heyward text trying to sell him on the team.
Kimbrel also consulted David Ross, who was with the Braves when the closer debuted in 2010 and helped him with the whole arm-dangle stance that’s become his trademark. While many of the Cubs’ traits are well known to those outside the organization by now, Ross offered a bit more insight on the clubhouse dynamics and the team’s focus on family.
Stating his priorities as a husband and father first, then a baseball player, Kimbrel said the family atmosphere was a big part of what made his decision so easy. As for future decisions on his readiness, Kimbrel and Epstein were not quite so open.
The initial plan is for Kimbrel to throw a bullpen session at Wrigley this Saturday before heading to extended spring training in Mesa, where he’ll be able to face live batters and ramp up into pitching shape. Though he’s used to the rigors of the sport, Kimbrel said getting back into game shape and acclimating to the natural pain of pitching is a constant reality.
Epstein said they’d “read and react” when it comes to Kimbrel’s readiness and refused to offer a set timeline, but indicated that the pitcher would spend at least a week in Arizona. Once he’s ready for a rehab stint, he’ll head to Triple-A Iowa for a while to get into some live competition in preparation for Chicago.
Some reports from earlier in the week said Kimbrel could be ready as soon as June 20, but that seems like a very aggressive timeline. On the other hand, that falls in the midst of a 10-game homestand that sees the Cubs taking on the White Sox, Mets, and Braves. For an adrenaline-fueled pitcher like Kimbrel, it doesn’t get any better than making your debut at home against a former team.
Following that stretch, the Cubs are on the road for the remainder of the first half. While holding him back until after the All-Star Game would give ample time to warm up, there’s a pretty obvious sense that both Kimbrel and the Cubs would like to have him in uniform prior to that.
That’s bad news for most opposing hitters, but it’s actually very good news for one batter in particular. While he was biding his time and waiting for teams to come calling, Kimbrel was working out primarily at Montverde High School in Florida. Franciso Lindor attended school there and has donated a good deal of money to ensure the best facilities, so it was a great place to keep in shape.
When he went home, however, he had to make due with what he had available. One day while throwing in his barn, Kimbrel waved a neighbor over with a request to have the man stand in as a simulated batter. The next morning, Kimbrel found a plywood cutout in the shape of a batter as a gift from the neighbor.
It’s his performance on the mound that will dictate everything in the end, but Kimbrel comes across as the kind of guy Cubs fans are going to love. He’s a bulldog on the field, but affable and mild-mannered off it, exuding an easy confidence that reminds you of Jon Lester. This has the makings of a very fun second half.
Now let’s just hope the he can get tuned up and solidify this bullpen in short order.