Saturday, October 10, 2015

See ya, Todd Cunningham!

It was a bit of an odd development on Friday to learn that Todd Cunningham had been waived by the Atlanta Braves - let alone lost on waivers to the Angels. After all, it was kind of those moves that the Braves didn't have to make, chose to make, and it makes zero sense from the outside. It's like deciding to throw away the milk a week before its expiration date. Sure, you bought new milk to replace it and yeah, you opened the new milk when you were half-asleep and making cereal, but you could have found some use for the old milk, no? The Braves certainly have replacements for Cunningham. He was unlikely to be in the mix for 2015, would have been out of options, and if the Braves wish to have a fourth outfielder around, I'm sure Dian Toscano will eventually work out (totally not kidding). But to lose Cunningham now? A confusing move.

G Fiume | Getty Images
Cunningham wasn't the only guy the Braves outrighted after the year was over. Joining him were Ryan Kelly, Ryan Lavarnway, and Sugar Ray Marimon. It didn't seem like the Braves needed the 40-man room.

But in the end, Cunningham is gone. He was a second round choice in 2010 out of Jacksonville State. The 2010 draft will always have good value because it includes Andrelton Simmons, but of the first five players selected by the Braves, only Simmons and Cunningham have made it to the majors. Cunningham represented the old Braves way of high-floor guys with limited upside. For what it's worth, Gondeee made the contention recently that the Braves selected players like Cunningham so high because the draft was supposed to yield depth talent to help the major league club. In that way, they were successful, but they failed to produce a lot of impact talent. Cunningham was on the list of decent enough talent, but a limited ceiling. At his best, he would have been an okayish outfielder with decent enough on-base skills, little pop, and good enough base-stealing ability to threaten 20 steals in a season. That player has value, but typically won't be good enough to be a starter on a team with much hope of competing.

Cunningham skipped rookie ball after his 2010 selection and went to Rome. He was a mature and smart player so that made sense. He OPS'd .679, the first of three seasons (out of six) that he would fail to OPS .700. After the season, he would head to Lynchburg and though Cunningham missed time, he was part of Hillcats roster that started several future Braves (Joey Terdoslavich at first, Philip Gosselin at second, Simmons at short, Christian Bethancourt eventually at catcher). Cunningham played in 87 games and had a .701 OPS with 4 HR and 14 steals. After the year, the Braves sent him to the Arizona Fall League with Bethancourt, Terdo, and other Braves to play on the Surprise Saguaros with Wil Myers and Mike Olt. The latter hit 13 homers in 27 games. That's crazy.

After a pretty unspectacular AFL, Cunningham played in Mississippi during 2012 and had his best season. He hit .309 with a .364 OBP while adding 23 doubles, 6 triples, and three homers to go with his personal-best of 24 steals. With Michael Bourn heading to free agency, Cunningham had a little buzz as a possible replacement in center field, but that was shattered by the free agent signing of B.J. Melvin Upton Jr. Cunningham went to Gwinnett to open 2013 and struggled. His OBP of .342 was fine, but it's hard to get excited about any player whose SLG is lower than his OBP, especially when Cunningham didn't have enough speed to make up for it. He did get his first trip to the majors and went 2-for-8.

2014 would be a trying season for Cunningham. He had the second-best year of his career and hit a solid .287 with a career-best eight homeruns, but couldn't get a look in the big leagues. Upton Jr. started 135 games in center while Emilio Bonifacio and Jordan Schafer started the rest of the games. Hardly the best collection of talent, yet Cunningham received no look. Not even a callup. Even when the season went to hell in the second half, the Braves didn't think Cunningham was deserving of a callup despite rosters expanding and being on the 40-man roster. It was a curious decision.

This season, Cunningham had a pretty ugly season with Gwinnett. His .663 OPS ranks as his worst minor league OPS and his full season mark is made worse by his major league numbers, but there was a time this year when Cunningham looked like he was deserving of an extended look. After Kelly Johnson hit the DL in mid-May, Cunningham was called up and his first four games went like this:

3-for-4, 2 RS, 2B, RBI, SB
3-for-4, 1 RS
2-for-4, 1 RS
1-for-3, 1 RS, 2B

It was a great, unsustainable, surprising start for Cunningham. Over his next 22 games, including 12 starts, Cunningham slashed .143/.226/.179 before being banished back to the minors. He was called up briefly in August for a game before returning to the Braves in September, but received just two starts the rest of the way, including a single to lead off the seventh in the season's final game. He scored on a Bourn hit and it was the final at-bat of his Braves career.

Overall, Cunningham hit .221 in 86 at-bats this year and has a major league slash of .223/.277/.266 in 101 PA. Losing him seems weird because it didn't seem like the Braves had to lose him right this second, but it doesn't look like much of a loss. That's not to say Cunningham can't occasionally have a season like Darren Bragg had in 2002 for the Braves when the failed prospect hit .269/.347/.401 with 3 HR in 240 PA. Cunningham seems like a well-liked guy so I kind of hope that he does, but the Braves were probably going to have to shuffle him off the 40-man roster at some point anyway.

You can keep up with Cunningham by following his Twitter.

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