|Born: December 25, 1989
Height: 6′ 1″
Drafted: 18th Round, 534th Overall, 2008
How Acquired: Draft
High School: Mount Spokane (Mead, WA)
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|The Pirates signed Cunningham away from a commitment to Arizona State, despite local news reports stating that he was unlikely to sign with them. He was regarded as much better than an 18th round talent and fell in the draft only because of a knee injury that wiped out his senior season. The injury was a torn anterior cruciate ligament, but in the end he didn’t have surgery because the ligament reattached itself, which apparently happens in a small number of cases. He tore it again, though, in spring training in 2009 and missed the whole season. He’s since moved to secondbase and has become one of the most interesting hitting prospects in the system, showing significant power but also serious problems with offspeed stuff.
Had the best debut of any of the Pirates’ 2008 draftees. He didn’t strike out a huge amount, a little less than once every six ABs. He went 4-for-4 with a HR in team’s only playoff game. Cunningham played more third than short, partly due to the presence of Benji Gonzalez and partly to reduce stress on the knee.
Missed the entire season following knee surgery.
Cunningham moved up to West Virginia and got through the season without incident, playing secondbase. He showed impressive pop for an infielder, but struggled with offspeed stuff, leading to a high K rate, a little less than one every three and a half ABs. He finished third in the SAL in extra base hits despite being slightly young for the league at 20. In the early part of the season, he showed little willingness to take pitches, drawing just four walks while fanning forty times in April and May. His plate discipline improved a great deal in June and July to 21 walks and 53 Ks, but it went south after that, with just five walks to go with 39 whiffs in August and September. He showed decent range in the field, which was encouraging given the injury he was returning from.
At Bradenton, Cunningham put up huge power numbers the first two months. He had an OPS in the mid-.900s in April and May, but slumped to around .650 in June and July. In mid-July he went on the disabled list with concussion symptoms and didn’t return except for a couple rehab games in the GCL in late August. I don’t know whether the injury occurred in mid-July or he was suffering problems for a while before that. Over half his hits went for extra bases. Plate discipline was a big issue, as he fanned in a little over a quarter of his ABs and walked only once every 20 plate appearances. The strikeouts sometimes came in alarming bunches, especially in May when he fanned 36 times in 30 games. He had a significant reverse platoon split, which may have been a fluke. He also hit much better at home, although the difference was mostly in batting average. He hit for about the same power both at home and on the road, and McKechnie Field in Bradenton mostly just helps power numbers, and even then mostly just for left-handed hitters. Cunningham had problems defensively, with 22 errors in just 80 games at second. He’d had only 19 in 119 games the previous year.
Cunningham missed some time due to injury in April and May, but otherwise spent the season playing second at Altoona. He never got going with the bat. Although his walk rate improved to the point of being fairly good, his power dropped of badly. On the plus side, his defense improved significantly and he committed only 12 errors, possibly a sign that his knee is finally healthy.
Cunningham returned to Altoona and rediscovered his HR power, but otherwise was largely the same hitter. In fact, his walk rate dropped significantly, leading to a dismal OBP. There was a period when he seemed to be making progress; he had a dozen HRs in May and June and slugged over .500, although he still didn’t hit for average. Cunningham collapsed in the last two months, though, with OPS figures of .577 and .473 in July and August. On the plus side, he’s continued to improve defensively and played well at second in 2013, and he finally managed to stay healthy all year.
The Pirates will almost certainly send Cunningham back to AA again in 2014, as he’s clearly not ready for AAA. He’ll be eligible again for the Rule 5 draft and won’t be selected. It’ll be one more year before he’s eligible for minor league free agency.
|2014: Minor League Contract|
|Signing Bonus: $100,000
MiLB Debut: 2008
MLB Debut: N/A
MiLB FA Eligible: 2014
MLB FA Eligible: N/A
Rule 5 Eligible: 2012
Added to 40-Man: N/A
Options Remaining: 3
MLB Service Time: 0.000
|June 6, 2008: Drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 18th round, 534th overall pick; signed on June 15.|