The Cincinnati Reds drafted Joel Kuhnel out of the University of Texas Arlington last season. The team sent him to join the Billings Mustangs bullpen after the draft. He found success there, posting a 3.43 ERA in 21.0 innings with just one walk allowed and he struck out 14 batters. He also induced ground balls at a 60% rate.
After his success in his debut the Reds pushed him to the next level to begin the 2017 season. Things have gone quite well for the big, imposing right hander. He’s posted a 3.52 ERA over 13 games pitched for the Dayton Dragons. In those 15.1 innings he’s walked just three batters and he has struck out 16 batters.
The Differences from 2016 to 2017
There have been some similarities, and some difference from the 2016 to the 2017 season. Joel Kuhnel has kept his very low walk rate, giving out a free pass to less than 5% of the batters he’s faced this year. He’s also kept up a high ground ball rate, posting 57% rate this season with Dayton.
There are also some difference, though. His home run rate has more than doubled. It’s still early in the season, but that’s unusual to see going from a hitter friendly Pioneer League to a more neutral Midwest League. His strikeout rate has jumped up from a low 15.2% in 2016 to 25.8% in 2017, which is well above-average.
Coming out of Texas, his fastball had been up to 97 MPH according to pre-draft reports. However, it sat a bit lower than that. On the night that I happened to see him last, which you can see in the video above, every fastball he threw was 95 or 96 MPH. He throws hard, and he’s got an interesting little “jump” in his wind up that hitters don’t see too often. With a high 3/4 arm angle, he’s throwing on a big downhill plane out of a 6′ 5″ frame, which is likely one of the reasons he has a high ground ball rate.
With a high rate of strikes thrown (71% this season, which is incredibly high), big velocity and a big ground ball rate, the Cincinnati Reds have another arm to add to their stable of potential future relievers.