Here's a Thought: Examining Aaron Cunningham
In the last week, I've looked at two of the A's top Triple-A hitters, top prospects Brett Wallace and Chris Carter. Now, I'm switching gears slightly and looking at another top Triple-A hitter, but one who has gotten a little bit of big league time the past two years: outfielder Aaron Cunningham.
If you're wondering why I've stuck to Triple-A guys this past week, it's because I'm waiting for the season to end so players stop accumulating stats and I can look at the season as a whole. So rest assured, in a few days, I'll be looking at some bigger (at least right now) names.
But for now, here's my evaluation of Cunningham:
In his 45-game big league career, Aaron Cunningham has hit a meager .211/.271/.338. In 103 career Triple-A games, however, he's crushed the ball at a .317/.389/.510 clip. His numbers at both levels were better in 2008 than 2009, although he still posted a .378 wOBA in Triple-A this year.
Cunningham is a prolific hitter for average who has something of a chance to hit .300 in the majors at some point. He's a career .309 hitter in the minors. However, his flyball style may not be conducive to .300 hitting in the majors, and he needs to improve his MLB line drive rate (14.0 percent career) to reach his peak.
Cunningham brings a decent eye and doesn't strike out excessively. His MLB K/BB ratio is bad (40/9), but his Triple-A one is much better (90/44). Cunningham appears to be a hitter who will strike out and walk more or less an average amount once settled into the majors.
Cunningham brings a dash of speed, stealing 11 bags in 15 tries this year in Triple-A, but isn't a tremendous sprinter.
We don't have much UZR data on the outfielder with just 45 MLB games, but he's been just about dead-average on defense, which matches up fairly neatly with the scouting report that I will now present.
At the plate, Cunningham will probably remind A's fans of Eric Byrnes without all the random fits of intensity. He's a flyball hitter with a big swing, like Byrnes, but also like the Diamondbacks outfielder, his power is more of the 15-25 homer variety than that of a big slugger.
He showed a tendency to overswing in the majors, dragging his numbers down, but showed good balance and leverage in Triple-A. Once he gets settled into the majors, this should be less of a problem.
Cunningham's outlook for contact is somewhat cloudy, as he could hit anywhere from .260 to .315 at his peak. It comes down to maintaining his swing balance and hitting a high number of line drives: he doesn't have enough power to hit .300 just through homers and flies off the wall.
He has decent speed, nothing special, similar to former Athletic Mark Kotsay when Kotsay played in Oakland.
Defensively, Cunningham can handle center as well as Nick Swisher ever did in Oakland, but he's best utilized in left field, where he's an above-average defender. He's average in right, but his merely average arm makes him better fit for left.
Cunningham would be a tremendous player if he could handle center well, but since he can't, he, like Byrnes, will ultimately be an acceptable starter, perhaps above-average for his position two or three different times, or a top-notch fourth outfielder. Unless his CF defense drastically improves, improvement of his line drive rate will be crucial to Aaron Cunningham's career.
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