PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — West Chester University product Joe Gunkel was recently promoted from Class-A Greenville to high Class-A Salem in the Boston Red Sox organization. Now moving up a rung on the organizational ladder is nothing new for the 22-year-old right-hander, as the jump up to Salem marked his fourth stop since he was selected in the 18th round of the 2013 MLB draft.
“Just really not trying to do too much,” Gunkel tells KYW Newsradio about his smooth transition to pro baseball. “Pitching to your strengths, working hard, doing the same thing you’ve always done and just adapting to what new things get thrown at you. As long as you stay along with the curve and keep working hard, you’re going to have success.”
Gunkel, who hails from Hershey, was 3-0 with a 2.28 ERA and 2 saves with Greenville. He started the season in the bullpen before being moved into the starting rotation. Since the promotion to Salem he has worked exclusively as a starter, going 1-2 with a 3.81 ERA in 5 games. That ERA is inflated quite a bit by one rough outing against the Frederick Keys (5 IP, 9 R, 6 ER). Last time out in Wilmington, he did not allow an earned run and gave up just 2 hits in 5 2/3 innings, in a game Salem eventually won 2-1.
Gunkel says it doesn’t matter to him whether he is pitching out of the pen or getting the ball every fifth day in the rotation.
“No preference really,” Gunkel says. “I’ve been doing pretty well at whatever they’ve thrown at me. Whatever they give me the opportunity to do, I’m happy to go out and do it.”
He also is working hard to improve.
“Mostly developing my off-speed (pitches) and keeping runners close in the running game,” Gunkel says. “It wasn’t really my strong suit coming into the season and coaches have really preached I need to get better at that so I’ve been working on that a lot, trying to be quick to the plate.”
Gunkel enjoyed a fine run at West Chester University. He was a very big reason why the Golden Rams won the 2012 NCAA Division II National Championship. He actually threw a complete game shutout in the national championship game that year and emerged as one of the country’s premier “big game” pitchers, finishing his career with a 0.25 ERA in four playoff games.
“Every year, you look back at it and you appreciate what we were able to do there,” Gunkel says. “You catch up with friends when you see them, and we’ll always have that special moment together of winning the championship. And it is something that we’ll never forget.”
He also says that his time at West Chester really helped him get where he is today.
“Just being able to play with guys that really knew how to play the game,” Gunkel says. “You learned a lot about the game. Especially going in as a freshman, learning from the upper classmen and playing with (fellow WCU Stars) Joey Wendle and Josh Heyne, who have been there and they know what their doing. They can kind of take you by the ropes when you are young and just help you through your struggles. Then you build from that when you get older.”
Gunkel is set to make his next start for Salem on Saturday vs. Potomac.
You can follow Matt on Twitter @mattleonkyw.