Kunz intent on working his way up

Kunz intent on working his way up

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- Eddie Kunz didn't know much about the Mets when he was drafted in June. But Oregon State's closer was well aware of Omar Minaya's predilection for drafting relief pitchers and quickly putting them in a position where they could help the Major League club.

New York's general manager had no problem with his staff giving 2006 third-round pick Joe Smith a long look this spring, one that resulted in his beginning the season on the Major League roster. And when Minaya was the general manager in Montreal in 2003, he made a few headlines by drafting Chad Cordero in the first round out of Cal-State Fullerton, then bringing him to the big leagues before the end of that season.

So when New York grabbed Kunz with its first selection (42nd overall) in this year's First-Year Player Draft, he figured his chances of working his way into the Mets' bullpen before too long were good. Kunz will have every opportunity to reward Minaya and team brass for their faith next February, when he arrives in Port St. Lucie for his first Major League Spring Training.

Considering how New York's bullpen fell apart over the final six weeks of the 2006 season, the chances of Kunz earning one of the coveted setup roles in front of closer Billy Wagner isn't far-fetched. He certainly has the resume for such a position, having pitched on back-to-back College World Series championship teams at OSU, including serving as the club's closer in 2007.

"I heard a lot about Joe Smith and actually played against him when I first started at Oregon State," said Kunz, who is currently pitching for Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League. "That was on my mind when the Mets drafted me. But, I still have to pitch well and work hard and see if I can get a spot on the 40-man roster.

"I definitely think I can go to the big-league camp and make the big-league team. Just to be there will be huge to face big-league hitters and see the difference."

If Kunz can tweak his power game just a bit and adapt to the better hitters in the pro game, finding a place for him on the Major League roster, let alone the 40-man, shouldn't be much of a problem. A mammoth right-hander, he's 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds and presents an image that's more middle linebacker than middle relief.

Kunz uses that powerful frame to produce a mid-to-high 90s fastball. While he was able to just blow the ball by hitters in the Pac-10, he found out last summer that he'd need a bit more moxie as he moves up the professional ladder. Kunz was 0-1 with a 6.75 ERA with Class A Short-Season Brooklyn of the New York-Penn League. He struck out nine and held the opposition to a .190 batting average in 12 innings, but he also walked eight after issuing 45 free passes in 100 1/3 career innings at OSU.

"You can't fool people here," Kunz said. "You have some good hitters who you just can't overpower. I finished up strong and I'm working on the same stuff here that I was working on at the end of the season. I want to develop three pitches, keep throwing the fastball for strikes while working on my slider and changeup to put things together.

"I have to be able to throw my changeup and slider for strikes. I usually try to get ahead with the fastball. But here if you don't have two good pitches, they'll hit you really well."

Kunz has had a rough time of it in Arizona though. He's 0-1 with a 14.09 ERA through six appearances. He walked five, surrendered 14 hits (including two homers) and allowed the opposition to hit .400 off him over his first 7 2/3 innings. While those numbers aren't encouraging, the atmosphere in Arizona is one of learning. And that's what Kunz is doing, hoping to compliment his education enough that he'll see some benefits in February.

"Knowing that I'm going to Major League camp is a little bit of a push," he said. "I still have to work hard, though. I have to work my butt off and show them I know what I'm doing."

It would seem that based on how the Mets scouted him, and when they drafted him, they are well aware that Kunz knows what he's doing.

Kevin Czerwinski is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.