If you missed the news today, the Cincinnati Reds have (finally) called up right-handed reliever Joel Kuhnel. It was in a series of moves that saw them lose Jared Hughes on waivers, send Sal Romano to Triple-A, and recall Matt Bowman. We’re going to just focus on Joel Kuhnel for now, and what the Reds can expect from their top relief prospect.
Joel Kuhnel by the numbers
It’s been an interesting career for Joel Kuhnel. He’s been good to very good in his career prior to 2019. He pitched for Billings, Dayton, and Daytona – spending a full year (or half-year since that’s all Billings plays) with each team from 2016-2018. There were plenty of things to like in that stretch, but the biggest was that he was a very high ground ball rate pitcher. Aside from that, thought, he also walked next to no one. His ERA’s were 3.43 (Billings), 4.36 (Dayton), and 3.04 (Daytona) in that stretch. He walked a total of 22 batters in 138.1 innings. Kuhnel also struck out 124 batters along the way. Pretty good numbers all around.
Things have changed a little bit in 2019, though. His ERA has gotten much better. Between his two stops it’s 2.18 in 53.2 innings pitched. He’s allowed just 39 hits, 6 home runs, walked 16 batters (3 intentional), and he’s struck out 50 batters. The walk rate is up a little bit this season, as is his strikeout rate. What’s been interesting, though, is that his ground ball rate is down significantly. He’s at 38% this season, while he was at 53% over the previous three seasons.
This season he’s dominated both lefties and righties, but he’s had more success against lefties. Right-handed hitters have posted a .223/.268/.366 line against him in 123 plate appearances this year. Left-handed hitters have a .171/.239/.268 line against him in 92 plate appearances this year. In 2018 his platoon splits didn’t exist, either, holding both sides to an OPS against of .628 and .648.
Joel Kuhnel Scouting Report
He’s an imposing figure, listed at 6′ 5″ and 260 lbs. Rated as the Reds #13 prospect on the midseason update, he’s the top relief prospect in the organization.
Despite being a reliever, he shows three pitches. His fastball, which has been up to 101 MPH, works in the 95-98 MPH range and will routinely touch higher than that. He also has an above-aveage slider in the mid-80’s and a change that works in the mid-to-upper 80’s. The change up grade varies depending on who you ask, but is anywhere from average to plus.
He’s pitched more than one inning 19 times this year, completing two full innings eight times. It’s unclear how he’ll be used immediately at the big league level.
What to expect from Joel Kuhnel
His control probably isn’t quite as good as his career numbers suggest. With that said, walks shouldn’t be an issue for him. He can thrown strikes, it’s just more control than command. He’ll be able to overpower some guys, and being able to turn to two quality offspeed offerings certainly won’t hurt. There’s no reason to believe he can’t step in and be an upgrade for the bullpen immediately. You never know until you know, but there’s nothing that suggests the Major Leagues will just overwhelm him.
Joel Kuhnel before the game tonight
Prior to the game tonight in St. Louis Joel Kuhnel spoke with the media about his call up.