HANCEVILLE – Wallace State baseball has produced its first major league All-Star as Atlanta Braves rookie closer Craig Kimbrel was selected Sunday to the 2011 MLB All-Star game after a phenomenal first half.
Kimbrel, a 2008 third-round pick, has compiled a major-league best 28 saves and leads all MLB relievers with 70 strikeouts, helping the Braves sit with a 54-38 at the break---the fourth-best record in baseball.
Kimbrel and four Braves teammates were selected to the 82nd All-Star game, which is Tuesday at 7 p.m. on FOX from the Arizona Diamondbacks' Chase Field.
Wallace State coach Randy Putman talked to Kimbrel late Sunday night to offer his congratulations and is thrilled for his former pitcher.
"It will be a real exciting night knowing that Craig was a big part of our success here at Wallace State. It's exciting for everyone involved. He's taken things he learned here and really excelled. He's improved each day and is going to improve each year," said Putman, who played in the minor leagues with the Kansas City Royals and San Diego Padres. "I'm looking forward to watching Craig pitch an inning Tuesday night, and Craig is excited."
Kimbrel pitched for Wallace State during the 2007-08 seasons. The Lee-Huntsville graduate finished 8-0 with a 1.99 ERA as a freshman, serving as a closer and spot starter and went 9-3 with a 2.88 ERA and 123 strikeouts in 81 innings as a sophomore, pitching primarily as a starter.
"Craig was a good pitcher here. Those guys who are high draft picks don't need as much coaching. You put them out there and let them play and pitch," Putman said. "The thing I felt Craig learned here more than anything was how to be tough. I was tough on him. A lot of kids this day and time can't handle it, but Craig could. I was trying to prepare him not only for his next outing with us, but preparing him for a shot in the major leagues because I knew he had the potential to go that far with his career.
"Craig learned to be mentally, physically and emotionally tough when he played here and has carried that over into the big leagues. He has matured into one of the best closers in the game."
After leaving Wallace State, Kimbrel made a rapid ascent up the Braves minor league system and was named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of the Year in 2009.
Kimbrel appeared in 21 games for the Braves last season, finishing 4-0 with a 0.44 ERA and 40 strikeouts in 20 2/3 innings. He also pitched in the postseason for Atlanta, but didn't pitch enough regular-season innings to qualify for rookie status. Therefore, Kimbrel is a main contender this year for NL Rookie of the Year, which is awarded at the conclusion of the season.
Kimbrel established the most saves by a rookie before the All-Star break when he picked up his 27th save against the Colorado Rockies on July 7. He is one of three former Wallace State players to pitch in the major leagues this season, joining Derek Holland of Texas Rangers and Graham Godfrey of the Oakland A's.