Until 2018, Kuhnel wasn’t really on the radar as a big league prospect after he was an 11th-round pick in 2016 out of the Univ. of Texas-Arlington. But by 2019, the right-hander was a Major League reliever for the Reds.
Besides being big at 6-foot-5 and 260 pounds, Kuhnel has a huge arm and power stuff to go with it. His fastball sits regularly in the upper-90s but can easily reach triple digits when he needs it. He made improvements to his second pitch, the slider, and that often ranges in the low-90s. Kuhnel started to develop his changeup but doesn’t use it enough yet, but it also can be nasty in the low 90s.
One of the more consistent relievers in the system, Kuhnel posted a 2.18 ERA over 41 games combined at Double- and Triple-A and had an 8.4 strikeouts-per-9 innings ratio. That was the same ratio the 25-year-old posted in Cincinnati, but he walked more batters (five) over 9 1/3 innings. He is likely best-suited right now for the middle innings of the bullpen but could wind up as a back-of-the-pen guy if he can develop his third pitch.
Scouting grades: Fastball: 70 | Slider: 50 | Changeup: 50 | Control: 55 | Overall: 45
A native of Goldsboro, N.C., the same small hometown that produced former big league catcher and ex-Reds manager Jerry Narron, Kuhnel did not get big bonus money when he was taken in the 11th round out of the University of Texas-Arlington in 2016. He's always had power stuff with the ability to command it, but it wasn't until 2018 that he started to figure things out.
Everything Kuhnel throws is hard. His fastball touches triple-digits with ease and he mixes in an 89-93 mph slider and a low-90s changeup. In 2018, he continued to fill up the strike zone even with the uptick in velocity gained thanks to a strong conditioning effort, and he missed more bats while continuing to get a lot of groundball outs as well. He has drawn praise for his strong makeup and an ability to grind through adversity on the mound.
Kuhnel wasn't on anyone's radars prior to 2018, but after his All-Star turn in the Florida State League, he repeated his success in 2019, making the Southern League All-Star team and earning a bump up to Triple-A. He should get the chance to see what he can do in Cincinnati soon.