Red Sox Predictions: Who will be the closer in 2019 if Craig Kimbrel leaves?

HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 06: Craig Kimbrel
HOUSTON, TX - OCTOBER 06: Craig Kimbrel /
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BOSTON, MA – OCTOBER 08: Carson Smith (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA – OCTOBER 08: Carson Smith (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Most Likely

Carson Smith returned from the pitching “Right of passage” known as Tommy John surgery to give a glimpse in September of what had been missed. Smith worked in eight games and picked up one save. In an earlier life in Seattle,  Smith was a two-way option as a closer and set-up getting 13 saves in 2015.  Smith is also under team control through 2021.

The 28-year-old righty with the quirky delivery relies primarily on a fastball, change, and curve. Smith can reach the mid-90s on his fastball and keeps the ball in the yard yielding only two home runs in 87.2 career innings and Smith has a very impressive 66.2% ground ball rate.

Will 2018 be a recovery year for right-hander Tyler Thornburg? He is the opposite of Smith with a far less impressive career 35.8 GB%, but Thornburg – or the Thornburg of 2016 – is a two-way option close or set-up.  In 2016, Thornburg posted 13 saves for the Brewers in 67 games. That breakout season saw Thornburg compile a 0.94 WHIP, 12.1 K/9, 2.25 ERA, 5.1 H/9, and 3.4 BB/9. Yes – he can pitch.

Thornburg relies primarily on a fastball (66.3%), curve (24.5%), and the rest is a change. As far as velocity expect mid-90’s on old number one and into the high 70’s on his change – that is certainly pulling the string. Thornburg is under team control through 2020.

Thornburg and Smith both have closing experience, and both have health issues with Thornburg having a null 2017 season.  This season will give a potential glimpse into the team’s closing future as they both vie for set-up duties – a noted gateway to being closer.  If Kimbrel has “issues” or an injury, then the issue of closer circa 2019 may be resolved earlier.