Washington Nationals minor league pitcher Cole Kimball has won the Arizona Fall League’s Dernell Stenson Sportsmanship Award while pitching for the Salt River Rafters. The award has been given annually since 2004 to the player who best exemplifies unselfishness, hard work and leadership. It is named in memory of the late Stenson, who, as an outfield prospect for the Cincinnati Reds, was killed in 2003.
Kimball is coming back from a torn rotator cuff injury suffered to his right shoulder in 2011. Surgery was performed in July of that year and he returned to throwing in June of 2012. After moving up to Double-A Harrisburg, Kimball suffered a torn lat muscle which sidelined him until August. He began throwing again that month and pitched through the Instructional League without any problems.
Kimball did not put up great numbers with Salt River. In 15 innings of work, his earned run average was 4.80. Kimball won the award more for his hard work and perseverance than performance. He beat out six other candidates for the award.
Before the injury, Kimball seemed to be on his way to earning a permanent spot in the Nationals bullpen. The 2006 12th round pick out of Centenary College had such an outstanding fall pitching for the Scottsdale Scorpions in 2010 that Washington invited him to spring training in 2011. He made the big club and appeared in 12 games, going 1-0 with a 1.93 ERA. Then he suffered the shoulder injury and had to begin his long road to recovery.
To Kimball’s credit, he worked hard at getting back into baseball. He appeared in six minor league games this season and finished with a 0-1 record. Kimball’s ERA was 6.35 over 5 2/3 innings. He gave up four earned runs on nine hits. These may not be Cy Young Award winning numbers, but just getting back onto the mound was victory enough for Kimball.
After pitching in the AFL, Kimball says that his arm feels almost brand new. Because he did not get a chance to do his normal long toss routine, Kimball is still building up arm strength. He feels as though it is getting closer to where it was two years ago.
If Kimball can come back, he could help strengthen a Nationals bullpen which already has some quality arms. Washington has two legitimate closers in Tyler Clippard and Drew Storen. The Nationals, also, have good setup men in Craig Stammen, Ryan Mattheus and Sean Burnett. If given a chance, it will be hard for Kimball to crack this group.
The main thing, now, is his health. If Kimball can keep that, he has a chance.
Winning the 2012 Dernell Stenson Award already proves that he has the determination.