Joe Gunkel is probably the top under-the-radar prospect in the Red Sox system. Baseball America indirectly said as much when they including him in the bonus supplement of this year’s Prospect Handbook. Their write-up of the 22-year-old right-hander suggested he “may be the first player to the majors from Boston’s 2013 draft.”
Gunkel didn’t come out of nowhere. The Red Sox took him in the 18th round out of West Chester University, in Pennsylvania. A standout starter for the Division-II Golden Rams, Gunkel began his professional career in short-season Lowell. Working out of the bullpen he allowed 11 base runners and punched out 32 batters in 20 innings.
Gunkel talked about his game this past weekend.
Gunkel on his background and the draft: “Growing up, I played a lot of local summer baseball. I wasn’t on any travel teams, so the exposure wasn’t really there. I was happy to go to a smaller school like West Chester where I could compete for a national title every year. My sophomore year  we won the [Division-II] World Series.
“I had an idea I’d maybe [be drafted] in the 7 to 10 range, but I wasn’t putting my cards into that. I’m just thankful I was drafted by such a prestigious organization that has accomplished so much. But in the end, it doesn’t really matter where you go. What matters most is that you get an opportunity.”
On dominating New York-Penn League hitters and his future role: “Was I surprised? Yes and no. I was successful in college, so I came to professional baseball with a pretty good idea of how to pitch. I pitched better than most guys in our bullpen and I guess maybe that’s surprising. I’m happy with the way I performed, especially with it being my first year.
“We’ve been talking about [starting or relieving] but don’t really have a set idea yet. They want me to throw multiple innings, whether it’s out of the bullpen or as a starter. We’ll be feeling that out throughout spring training. I really don’t have a preference. I started in college and got used to coming out of the bullpen last summer, so I’m fine wherever they put me.”
On his arm slot and repertoire: “My fastball is a four-seam. I get a lot of late break on it — a lot of arm side movement — and from what I’ve heard, hitters have a lot of trouble picking it up out of my hand. My velocity is in the low 90s, but I guess it seems a lot faster. Both hitters and coaches have told me that. I throw from a lower arm slot, kind of lower three quarters, which is a big part of it.
“My slider is a lateral-movement slider. We’re trying to make it a quick, sharp pitch, instead of a longer, deeper pitch. We’re trying to disrupt the hitter’s timing, but at the same time be quick enough that it will miss bats, or at least create poor contact. Right now I’m not getting much depth on it.
“I throw a changeup, mostly to lefties, and that’s something I’ll be working on a lot in spring training. I’ve been changing up grips throughout the years and finally have one I’m pretty comfortable with. It’s a matter of getting it to the point where it’s the same every time, where I can get the same action.
“Technically, I guess it’s a circle change, but I dig it into my hand a little more. It comes of my fingers a different way than my earlier grips, and I get more dive. It still needs consistency, though.”
On instructional league and moving on the rubber: “We haven’t really done much with my mechanics, or anything like that. They did move me to the other side of the rubber, from the first base side to the third base side. That’s something that might make it even more difficult for right-handed hitters to pick up the ball against me.
“They moved me during instructional league. I was down for about three weeks and they tinkered with it there. Overall, [instrux] allowed me to learn little things and get used to some of the people I didn’t see in Lowell. It kind of got me acquainted with everything I’d be doing down here in spring training.”
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