When asked how Joel Kuhnel lasted until the 11th round of the 2016 draft, then-Reds scouting director Chris Buckley said maybe they were just lucky.
Part of that luck was unlucky for Kuhnel, who missed about a month of his junior year at the University of Texas-Arlington with a shoulder injury. But the Reds saw him healthy and liked what they saw, a big guy who threw hard.
“You pick the players you see play well and pitch well—he’s a guy we saw pitch well,” Buckley said. “There’s so much luck. We weren’t trying to see him when he was down. When he came back, he threw well.”
He’s thrown well this year, too. Through the first five games of the season, he’s allowed just one run. More impressive is that the 6-foot-5, 260-pound righthander had 18 strikeouts and four walks over 13.1 innings to start the season for Double-A Chattanooga. Last season at high Class A Daytona, he walked just 11 batters and struck out 56 in 53.1 innings.
“For a big man, he has good body control, repeats his delivery,” said Shawn Pender, the Reds’ vice president of player development. “His delivery is simple and he’s able to repeat it. He feels his balance points. Sometimes guys who are big have to go through certain points in their delivery.”
Kuhnel’s fastball can touch triple digits and he pitches in the upper 90s with late action. The slider is also a weapon.
“It’s continued to get more consistent,” Pender said. “He has a good sense when to use and how to use it. I don’t see him making mistakes with the slider over the heart of the plate.”
He’s also mixing in a split-finger fastball this season.
“He’s a confident kid,” Pender said. “The other night he threw a good pitch that got hit out at our place. He got right back on the saddle. It was never a doubt. He doesn’t worry about a lot of things.”
— After suffering an ankle injury at the end of spring training, outfielder Nick Senzel made his season debut with the Triple-A Louisville Bats on April 23, singling in his first at-bat.
— Righthander Ryan Hendrix, Kuhnel’s draft-mate and fellow reliever at Double-A Chattanooga, hasn’t allowed a run in his first six games of the season. He has eight strikeouts and four walks over 7.2 innings.