Joel Kuhnel had a bit of a breakout year in 2018 with the Daytona Tortugas. The right-handed reliever posted a 3.04 ERA with 17 saves in 53.1 innings with 56 strikeouts and just 11 walks – and two of those were intentional.
In 2019 the Cincinnati Reds were ready to push him up the ladder and join their Double-A affiliate in Chattanooga. The first two weeks of the season went well for the reliever, allowing just one run over 8.2 innings with a walk and 16 strikeouts. On the 22nd he’d hit a bump in the road, allowing two earned in 1.2 innings, taking a loss against Tennessee. He’d round out the month with two more appearances, finishing the month with a 2.70 ERA in 13.1 innings with four walks and 18 strikeouts.
May was more of the same. For the first two-and-a-half weeks, Joel Kuhnel was dominant out of the bullpen for the Lookouts, allowing one run over 7.0 innings and allowing just three base runners. But on the 19th he ran into troubles against Biloxi, giving up two earned in 1.2 innings. He’d made five more appearances and give up just one more run the rest of the month. For May his ERA was 2.40 over his 15.0 innings with three walks – two of which were intentional – and eight strikeouts.
In the first half of June, Kuhnel would make five appearances for Chattanooga. He would allow just one earned run in 7.1 innings and strikeout four batters. That led to a promotion to Triple-A Louisville in the second half of the month. His first appearance saw him allow a run in an inning of work for the Bats. But he followed up with three straight shutout appearances. With a promotion mid-month, he put together the lowest ERA he had of a month thus far with a 1.54 mark in his 11.2 innings. June also went down as the first month he didn’t allow a home run during the year.
July started out with 2.0 perfect innings that included three strikeouts against Indianpolis. And things just kept rolling from there. Over the next five appearances and three weeks he tossed five consecutive innings of shutout baseball. The righty did give up two earned in the final three games of the month, but still finished with a 1.74 ERA for Louisville in 10.1 innings. He also picked up 14 strikeouts along the way.
August saw Joel Kuhnel make three more appearances for Louisville. That’s when he got called up to the Major Leagues. He would make his big league debut on August 16th against St. Louis at home in Cincinnati. He allowed a solo home run that day in an inning of work. He followed that up with 2.0 hitless innings against the Cardinals two days later. Kuhnel didn’t pitch for nearly a week after that before taking the mound in Pittsburgh on the 24th. Things didn’t go well that day as he allowed four runs and recorded just one out. It was the last time all season he gave up a run. He gave up just three hits over his final eight outings, combining for 6.1 shutout innings of work to close out his season.
For all 2019 Season Reviews and Scouting Reports – click here (these will come out during the week throughout the offseason).
Joel Kuhnel Scouting Report
Position: Right-handed pitcher | B/T: R/R
Height: 6′ 5″ | Weight: 260 lbs | Drafted: 11th Round, 2016
Born: February 19, 1995
Fastball | The pitch works 94-96 and touches 100. He offers both a 2 and 4-seam fastball.
Slider | His main secondary offering, he’ll throw it in the mid-to-upper 80’s. It’s an above-average to plus pitch.
Change Up | Not a pitch he goes to often, but it’s there in the 88-90 MPH range.
In the minors, Joel Kuhnel didn’t walk anyone. But when he got to the Major Leagues his walk rate did jump up quite a bit. Small sample size applies there, but if he’s going to be a guy that pitches near the back of the bullpen and in the clutch innings/situations, he’ll need to be closer to the control guy he was in the minors.
From a stuff standpoint, he’s got it. His fastball, both of them, help generate a lot of ground balls. Well, sort of. His time in the minors this season saw his ground ball rate at an all-time low of 38%. Every other stop along the way since he was drafted, including his time in the Major Leagues, saw his ground ball rate sit at at least 52%. If he can maintain that kind of ground ball rate, find his control to be a little closer to what he showed in the minors – he’ll be a big help as a potential 8th inning kind of reliever and soon.
Interesting Stat on Joel Kuhnel
Including his time in the Major Leagues in 2019, Joel Kuhnel held hitters to a .190/.271/.250 line with runners on base during the season.
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