FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The few times Craig Kimbrel has crossed paths with Jonathan Papelbon -- at the 2012 All-Star Game, for instance -- the conversation has drifted from their respective dominance of the ninth inning.
"Me and him," Kimbrel said of his predecessor as the Boston Red Sox closer, "we mostly talked about hunting."
But Papelbon hasn't hid his admiration for Kimbrel. In December, three weeks after the Red Sox traded four prospects to pry Kimbrel away from the San Diego Padres, Papelbon attended slugger David Ortiz's charity golf tournament in the Dominican Republic and called the 27-year-old right-hander "a younger version of me."
The Red Sox certainly hope that will be the case. Papelbon, presently with the Washington Nationals, holds the club record with 219 saves from 2006 to 2011 and threw the pitch that clinched the 2007 World Series.
Papelbon often discusses his reverence for legendary New York Yankees closer Mariano Rivera, referring to him as the "godfather" of the position, and prides himself on working with younger relievers in whom he sees potential. It's Papelbon's way of paying it forward to the closers who come behind him.
When Kimbrel broke into the majors with the Atlanta Braves in 2010, his mentor was former closer Billy Wagner. Then-Braves general manager Frank Wren, now a member of the Red Sox front office, once called Kimbrel a "mirror image" of the left-handed Wagner because of their smallish statures and heat-seeking fastballs.
Kimbrel leads the majors with 224 saves since 2011 (Papelbon ranks third with 161). He has chatted with Papelbon only a few times -- "I wouldn't say I know him super, super well," he said -- but has made a point over the years of watching him pitch.
"He definitely paid attention to what Rivera was doing, and I think a lot of times you learn by watching guys," Kimbrel said. "Most times you're teammates, where you spend more time and kind of learn from what they say and talk about, all that kind of stuff. But a lot of it is just watching what guys do from across the field or the short time you get to spend with them. I definitely learn by watching them, guys who've done it for a long time."
And the thing Kimbrel has tried to glean from Papelbon?
"His aggressiveness," he said. "He's always been a guy who's going to go after you, and you've got to respect that."