Due to various circumstances, we're a few weeks late delivering number 22 on this list, but with the recent announcement Kunz will be one of three September call-ups we're suddenly timely! You'll see him soon, but don't expect much. The ruff rider has certainly lived up to his nickname this season.
Physical Stats: 6'5" 265 lbs.
Position: Relief Pitcher
Drafted: 1st round 2008, Oregon State
Current Team: Buffalo Bisons (Triple-A International League)
"Beefy" may be the best term to describe Kunz. Big, strong, and thick, Kunz uses his size to throw his best pitch, a hard sinking fastball, with good velocity and plenty of movement. He uses it to generate groundballs with great effect, however if he wants to generate swings and misses with any kind of consistency, he's going to need to deepen his repertoire. Unfortunately, the fastball is his only real plus pitch. His slider flashes average, but is only an effective weapon against right handed hitters, and though he's discussed working on a changeup, he's yet to show one that is a usable weapon against the advanced hitters of the International League. After a decent start this year, Kunz has really tailed off in the later months, which raises some questions about his conditioning.
Kunz pitches from the stretch with little leg kick, relying on his height and quick arm action. He has good tempo, but I am generally weary of pitchers who generate most of their motion to the plate from leaning their massive frames forward. Eddie's mechanics explain much of his two biggest recurring problems: his bad control, which he attributes to his massive frame leaning too far in one direction, and his platoon split, which can partially attributed to his lefties picking up his 3/4 arm slot easily.
Mark Says: Kunz is still a prospect, but just barely. The fact that he's virtually the only prospect the Mets have left in Triple-A right now is what earns him this ranking. He has all the tools needed to retire right handed batters at the major league level and his groundball numbers are very appealing, but he's also shown very little progress during his tenure as a professional baseball player. Most troubling among all of Kunz' "statistical numbers" has been his K/BB ratio. Pitchers just can't afford to walk nearly as many batters as they strike out, despite what Oliver Perez might have you believe. This is an even larger problem against left handed batters for Kunz, as he has thus far faced 224 lefties in his professional career, and managed to strike out just 27 while walking 29, a trend that has held up this season (90 lefties faced, 9 strikeouts, 11 walks). On the flipside, it is also important to note that with 21.4% of the flyballs Kunz has given up this year resulting in homers, his ERA and FIP are probably both distorted, and not in a good way.
Sam Says: Two common criticisms of Kunz from scouts last year were that he was "soft" and "pitching scared," and both of those problems are reflected in his stats. "Soft" implies a conditioning issue, which may explain why his stuff is getting hit so hard this year. "Pitching scared" suggests he's nibbling, which is not a formula for success with a sinker-first pitcher, Mike Pelfrey being living proof of that. Bad luck figures to be at least part of his newfound homerun problem, but there's nothing encouraging about a number that big. Forgetting the "prospect" label for a moment, Eddie Kunz has been by far the worst pitcher at Buffalo, with his 5.93 tRA -1 WAR being impressively bad for a reliever. His September call-up may become a good confidence-building exercise, but Kunz shouldn't be anywhere near the ML bullpen next season.
Fun With Comparable Players
Scott Boras says:
Chad Qualls: Qualls' path to the big leagues may not have been exactly the same as Kunz, but he is a promising example of a relief pitcher able to get by on using the gloves of his infielders rather than swinging strikes. Like Kunz, Qualls had his share of struggles upon reaching the upper-minors, in large part due to somewhat shaky command, and in larger part due to his inability to miss bats. It wasn't until his age 25 season that Qualls managed to correct the former of these two issues, and from that point he took off running, building a career as a solid relief pitcher. However, unlike Kunz, Qualls had the advantage of beginning his career as a starting pitcher, and his improvement in command also happened to coincide with his eventual move to the bullpen. Kunz doesn't have such a fallback option, but he is still quite a bit younger than Qualls was by the time he made the switch, and also pitching against a higher level of competition than Qualls was at age 23. The moral of this comp is that Kunz doesn't necessarily have to be a quality major leaguer by next year or start striking out 30% of the batters he faces, but at the very least, he is going to have to get some separation between his strikeout and walk ratios one way or another.
Impartial Observer Says:
Mike MacDougal: MacDougal makes for a nice Kunz comp, not necessarily because he's become a great major league pitcher, but because he very, very slowly made enough progress to earn his way onto a big league roster, and even close out some games, even if it is for the lowly Nationals. Also a first round draft pick, MacDougal also spent the early parts of his career trying to get some separation in his strikeout and walk ratios. Though he's currently having his worst major league season in this sense, he's somehow managed to
be effective get lucky, but he has also had some brief flashes of success in seasons where he has managed better true outcome numbers.
Steve Phillips Says:
Eddie Kunz: There's little Stevie boy could tell us that could really change the picture on Kunz. He's already hit one of the lesser of his possible outcomes from draft day. If anything, Kunz is exactly the kind of player you'd expect Steve Phillips to overrate, simply by virtue of the fact that he's a pretty crappy baseball player.
Ceiling WAR: 0.5
Median WAR: something negative
Next season will be a big test for Kunz, as it's very unlikely that he'll impress enough in the spring to earn a big league job, and once advanced prospects start repeating levels, progress becomes vital to their status as potential future big leaguers. Though Kunz doesn't have the ceiling of some of the other relief pitchers we've discussed so far, it does seem likely he could be useful in some capacity even now, but it may take a disciplined and thoughtful manager to deploy him properly, and the idea that he may be a "future closer" is a thing of the past.