In college, Joe Gunkel was an ace for a dominant D-2 college program. As a sophomore, Gunkel was a member of a West Chester Golden Rams team that won the D-2 National Championship over Delta State 9-0. That season, Gunkel started 12 games pitching 87 innings with a 2.07 ERA while fanning 45 batters, making him a viable draft prospect for 2013. In 2013, the Golden Rams were a .500 team, but Gunkel still pitched well. In 11 starts, Gunkel posted a 2.44 ERA in 77 1/3 innings along with 76 strikeouts to just 11 walks. Given his solid potential and low signing bonus demands, scouts expected Gunkel to be drafted somewhere between rounds seven through ten. For some reason, Gunkel fell to the 18th round where the Boston Red Sox snagged him using the 533rd overall pick in the draft. Keep in mind Boston used the seventh overall pick in this same draft to draft Trey Ball. The 6ft6 righty signed within days of being drafted and headed down to Fort Myers to be a member of the GCL Red Sox.
After one outing in the Gulf Coast League, Boston promoted Gunkel to short-season Lowell in the New York-Penn League. Used solely as a reliever for the first time, Gunkel was one word and one word only: dominant. In 14 outings in which he pitched 20 innings, Gunkel boasted a 1.35 ERA while striking out 32 hitters and walking just three. Despite this dominant performance, Gunkel still had a long way to go to reach the top.
This season, Gunkel came in ready for his first full professional season. Gunkel who worked extra hard on his changeup is dominant once again. In 13 games for the low-A Greenville Drive, the 22 year-old boasts a 1.29 ERA in 28 innings pitched. To go along with this, Gunkel has racked up 39 K’s while walking just six.
Perhaps the most impressive feat out of all of this came on Friday, May 23rd when Gunkel got his first pro start. In four innings, Gunkel did not allow a hit, walked just one batter, and whiffed six. Those four innings took Gunkel just 45 pitches, 34 of which were strikes. Although this is just one start, it is definitely an encouraging sign to see the Red Sox organization stretching out Gunkel and giving him a shot to throw longer outings, and potentially even start. Especially since Gunkel was on track to throw a no-hitter in his first pro start.
As expected, Gunkel tends to favor facing right-handed batters over lefties. Gunkel has yet to allow a run in 15 1/3 innings against righties while holding them to a .132 average. Lefties on the other hand, have been better. Against Gunkel, lefties are hitting .156 and have scored 5 total runs (4 earned) off of him in 12 2/3 innings. With this being said, if Boston wanted Gunkel as a righty one out guy, or a ROOGY as it is called, he would be getting promoted quicker than he has been. The main problem with Gunkel is that his changeup still needs work, a pitch that he primarily throws to lefties.
For Gunkel, his repertoire consists of a fastball with good late movement which tops out at 92mph, a slider with a lot of movement which tops out at about 85mph, and a circle change that could use some work that is about 10mph slower than his fastball. Although this might not seem like star-quality stuff, it certainly gets the job done for Gunkel. In addition to these pitches, Gunkel does a great job keeping his pitches down in the zone, given how tall he is at 6ft6. He has somewhat of an odd delivery in the fact that it is lower than a traditional three quarters, but not quite as low as a sidearm delivery. Mix all of this in with excellent command, and Gunkel is who he is, a great pitcher. With the skills Gunkel possesses, he has the potential to do many different things in his career, and it is up to Boston to pick a career path they think suits him well, whatever that may be.
Overall, Joe Gunkel is definitely an interesting player to watch. The righty is on track proving his worth within the organization, and that he deserves a promotion at some point during this season. Whether it be as a starter or reliever, a multi-inning guy or a ROOGY, Gunkel has what it takes to be a Major League player. All Gunkel needs to do is keep doing what he has been doing, and the future looks bright for him, even though he still has a long path ahead to the Majors. When Gunkel does make it, he is ready. He already has a verified twitter which is @Joe_Gunkel.