Atlanta Braves prospect Brett Cumberland is in a groove.
He has been since the calendar turned May.
Minus an early June slump, Cumberland has been one of the hottest hitters for the past month-and-a-half, not only for the Rome Braves, but in the South Atlantic League altogether.
I had seen Cumberland a few times earlier in the season, but hadn’t been as focused as I was on him as I was Tuesday night against the Augusta GreenJackets. He caught my attention right off the bat… quite literally.
Thanks to Atlanta traffic, I walked in with bases loaded and Cumberland at the plate. He pulled the ball to right field, hitting a line-drive single, plating the first of the Rome Braves 15 runs on the night.
Having gone 0-for-15 over the last four games of the road trip, it was the hit Cumberland needed.
“Even last night, he hit a ball or two hard but didn’t get a hit,” Rome Braves skipper Randy Ingle said. “He swung the bat good right out of the shoot tonight. He jumped on the first pitch for a hard base hit. You’re going to do that from time to time. You’re going to go 0-fer, no matter who you are. It’s good the see him swinging the bat good tonight.”
Cumberland exploded Tuesday night. The switch-hitter batted lefty every trip to the plate and made good contact in four of his five at bats, finishing 3-for-4 with four RBI and a walk. His best hit ball was probably the one out he made, just missing a fourth hit that nearly cleared the centerfield wall.
“It’s a great team game,” Cumberland told me. “Everybody hit tonight, that’s about as fun as it gets right there. Someone’s going up there getting a knock, the next person’s getting a knock. Makes the game real nice when you score five in the first.”
Aside from being the league leader in on-base percentage (.438) and OPS (.966), just who is Brett Cumberland?
The soon-to-be 22 year old backstop is listed as a switch-hitter. He stands at 5-foot-11, and 205 pounds. It should also be noted that on the night we spoke, he was sporting an 80-grade in the mustache game.
Cumberland was a rarity for the Atlanta Braves, especially in the past few seasons. A team known for its affection for high school arms, the Braves regime instead selected Cumberland out of Cal at the end of the second round. The catcher was one of the best collegiate bats in the draft.
Despite being from the left coast, however, this was exactly where Cumberland wanted to be.
“It was awesome,” Cumberland said on being drafted by the Braves one year earlier. “It really was a dream come true, I thank God for the opportunity that he gave me. I’m very blessed. Not many people get this opportunity to keep playing a kids’ game. For my family along the way, it’s been a great experience. I’m really happy to be part of the Braves organization.
“I was a Giants fan, a little bit of the As, too. I really liked the atmosphere of the Oakland Coliseum and everything. It really is a blue-collar atmosphere. I went to Cal. It was a15-minute BART ride, so me and my buddies we would go over there and it was really fun to watch them play.
“When I was 15 and even younger, we would come to Marietta for the Wood Bat Classic. So I caught a couple Braves game. Turner Field was amazing. I was always like, ‘man, it would be cool to be a Brave.’ Then the call came. I guess God has a reason for everything.”
Cumberland had a quiet half season debut last year in the Appy League, and this past April, it was the same slow start. He ended April batting just .170 with one home run, but his advanced feel at the plate allowed him the opportunities to get on base, posting a .371 on base percentage.
May was another story. Cumberland erupted, slashing .357/.520/.757 with seven of his nine home runs on the season. His power bat waking up is huge, considering Rome has just 24 home runs as a team.
“Things just started falling into place, I would say,” said Cumberland. “I was getting on base in April, all year I’ve been getting on base. May things just started to come together and it was a good month.”
One of the biggest assets to Cumberland’s game is his patience. If he sees his pitch, he’ll jump on it, as he did in his first at bat, but he’ll also wait, as he did on his bases-loaded clearing double.
His final at bat was one of his most impressive. Cumberland showed why he is equally as dangerous when he doesn’t hit, drawing an 11-pitch walk.
“Those at bats are real nice, when it comes together like that,” Cumberland said. “I’m just battling, battling, battling. There were some pitches I had the opportunity to hit, but I just fouled them off. That’s going to happen. But it is nice, especially seeing a lot of pitches. That helps the team out.”
Cumberland has a pretty simple approach at the plate. There is a little wiggle pre-pitch, as he stands in the back of the box, his back elbow propped. He has a defined in-and-out leg kick, and a pretty fluid swing that is a sight to see when he is connecting.
The two knocks against Cumberland have been his defense and inflated fly-ball rates. Unfortunately, he was DH, so I didn’t get a good look at his defensive prowess. As far as the fly-ball rates, Cumberland’s near-miss home run was the only ball he really put in the air. He belted a few low line drives and his double was a ground ball ripped down the first base line. Thought he says he hasn’t focused on it, it is certainly something that seemed improved.
The Braves have longed for a nice hitting catcher since Brian McCann left town. While Alex Jackson seems to be fitting in behind the plate, if Cumberland’s defense improves as his offense has, he, too, may be a nice future piece behind the plate in Atlanta sooner than later.