In 2019, right-hander Joel Kuhnel threw 53 2/3 innings between Double-A and Triple-A with an ERA of 2.18, strikeout rate of 23.3% and walk rate of 7.4%. Just 24 years old at the time, he also made his MLB debut that year, logging 9 2/3 innings out of the Reds’ bullpen. Unfortunately, he hasn’t been able to build off that strong campaign, with injuries hampering him over the subsequent two years. In 2020, a shoulder issue limited him to just three big league innings. Due to the pandemic wiping out the minors, those are the only innings on his ledger that year. He underwent surgery to repair a torn capsule in his right shoulder in October of 2020 and was outrighted off the roster, then was rehabbing for much of 2021, throwing eight minor league innings on the year.
Kuhnel is now getting geared up in spring training for 2022, since he is not on Cincy’s 40-man roster and not affected by the lockout. Mark Sheldon of MLB.com checked in with the 27-year-old as he tries to get back on track. “Everything feels normal,” Kuhnel said. “It feels better than ever, really.” The Reds’ bullpen didn’t do them many favors in 2021, as their 4.99 ERA ranked 27th in baseball, only beating out the non-competitive Diamondbacks, Nationals and Orioles. Advanced metrics were a bit kinder, but not by much, with Reds’ relievers putting up a 4.56 FIP and 4.34 xFIP. The club has been rumored to be cutting payroll this offseason, making it unlikely they bolster their staff with a big free agent splash. That means that improvement from internal options like Kuhnel will be important for them as they try to walk a fine line of keeping spending down but staying competitive.
Some other Central notes…
- Chris McCoskey of The Detroit News is at the Tigers’ spring training facility, even if none of the players on the 40-man roster are. One player in camp that caught his eye is Gerson Moreno, who was selected to the club’s roster after the 2017 season. 22 years old at the time, Moreno lasted just a few months on the roster as he required Tommy John surgery. The Tigers released and re-signed him in the summer of 2018. His rehab period wiped out most of his 2018 and 2019, then the pandemic wiped out the minors in 2020. Last year, Moreno was finally able to get some significant time on the mound, throwing 49 innings between Double-A and Triple-A. His 4.59 ERA doesn’t jump out, but his 33.2% strikeout rate is excellent. It does, however, come with an elevated 13.2% walk rate. The Tigers spent big already this offseason to upgrade their rotation and lineup with Eduardo Rodriguez and Javier Baez but haven’t made a big move in the bullpen. If the 26-year-old Moreno can take a step forward, he could give them a boost from within.
- Other than Eduardo Rodriguez, the Tigers’ rotation consists of hurlers they drafted and developed: Casey Mize, Tarik Skubal, Matt Manning and Tyler Alexander. The next guy behind them on that path is Jackson Jobe, according to Evan Petzold of the Detroit Free Press. Selected by the Tigers with the third overall pick in last year’s draft, Jobe is just 19 years old and isn’t close to the majors, but is already drawing rave reviews. MLB Pipeline ranks him the 46th-best prospect in baseball and Baseball America places him in the 79th spot. Petzold spoke to one scout, who had nothing but superlatives to offer about the right-hander, giving Jobe’s fastball and changeup 70s and his breaking ball an 80, on the 20-80 scouting scale. Jobe is still quite young, meaning Tigers fans will need to be patient, but the scout offers this as the ceiling: “If everything lines up, he’s the No. 1 starter in the big leagues on a championship team.”