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Under the Radar: Hunter Kiel

Could Kiel join Hamilton, Vieira, and Johnson in the Sox list of prospective closers?

There’s no pitcher who better conveys the image of “Wild Thing” Ricky Vaughn from “Major League” quite like Hunter Kiel, who was drafted last year in the 18th round from NCAA World Series runner-up LSU. Just take a look at the collegiate stats from this Florence, Ala. native:

2015 (Pensacola State J.C.): 9 G, 5 23 IP, 9.53 ERA, 3.53 WHIP, 14.2 H/9, 11.12 K/9, 17.47 BB/9

2017 (LSU): 10 G, 6 IP, 18.47 ERA, 2.53 WHIP, 11.37 H/9, 12.79 K/9, 11.37 BB/9

Thus, in two short abbreviated seasons due to ineffectiveness, Kiel combined for 19 games, 11 23 innings, 14.25 ERA, 3.00 WHIP, 12.7 H/9, 12.00 BB/9 and 14.25 BB/9. To sum up, in the equivalent of a nine-inning game, Kiel would have allowed 13 hits, 15 walks and 15 earned runs while striking out 12. It’s amazing that Kiel was drafted twice (the Arizona Diamondbacks picked him in the 29th round in 2016)! Just like seven-footers in the NBA draft, hard-throwing pitchers who can rush it close to 100 mph will nearly always get drafted.

Last year wasn’t much better for Kiel with the AZL White Sox. In 11 innings of work over 12 games, he allowed 10 earned runs, 18 walks and 16 strikeouts while amassing an ERA of 8.18 and a 2.64 WHIP. However, Kiel was definitely making progress by the end of the year. Over his last five games, he pitched 5 13 innings while allowing just two walks while striking out 10; he didn’t allow a run over that time.

That progress has carried on to 2018 in the very early going with his AZL squad. In 5 13 innings over four games, Kiel has allowed one hit and five walks while striking out 12. He’s still got work to go, as a 8.40 BB/9 ratio won’t get it done in the upper levels; however, a 20.26 K/9 performance would certainly give him the chance for quick ascension.

Hunter Kiel: Moving Forward

Kiel is 21 years old, six-foot-three and 230 pounds. He has a four-pitch arsenal, featuring a fastball that reaches 97, a tight slider, a curve and change which fluctuate in the low-to-mid 80s. With his frame, Kiel’s projections are still in flux. He hasn’t pitched many innings in college, so his arm is relatively fresh. Kiel hasn’t been able to harness the movement on his pitches, though with recent repetition, his walks (and hits) have gone down while his strikeouts have gone up.

Kiel is the classic high-ceiling, low-floor reliever. Like most closers, he needs to keep his emotions in check and stay on an even keel (pun intended). If he can pitch strikes, perhaps by limiting his repertoire to his best two offerings (fastball and slider), he could have a future as a closer on the South Side. If not, he likely wouldn’t have a future as a middle reliever.