- Full name Thomas David Cunningham
- Born 03/20/1989 in Jacksonville, AL
- Profile Ht.: 6'0" / Wt.: 205 / Bats: S / Throws: R
- School Jacksonville State
- Debut 07/30/2013
Drafted in the 2nd round (53rd overall) by the Atlanta Braves in 2010 (signed for $674,100).
View Draft ReportScouts got familiar with Jacksonville State last year, following hard-throwing righthander Ben Tootle. Cunningham entered the season as a possible first-round pick, and he could still sneak in that high. He has a track record with wood, hitting .387 last year to lead the Cape Cod League after hitting .310 in the Texas Collegiate League in 2008. He hadn't dominated the Ohio Valley Conference this spring, but he was clearly the best hitter in the conference and its best prospect. For some, Cunningham fits the center-field profile well enough to be an everyday player. He's intelligent and has a good baseball IQ. He switch-hits and stays inside the ball from both sides, working counts with a patient, disciplined approach. Some project him to be an above-average hitter with fringe-average power, projecting to 10-15 home runs annually. He's a solid-average runner, with his throwing arm being his weakest tool. He played one game at shortstop and would profile well at second base, but he's a better fit at shortstop if his bat can carry him. Detractors see Cunningham's range and arm as short for center field, and his power short for a corner spot. His safe bat and consistency likely will push him into the second round.
Organization Prospect Rankings
The Braves made Cunningham a second-round draft choice in 2010. He made it to the big leagues for a brief cup of coffee three years later and then got into 39 games in 2015. Acquired by the Angels on waivers just after the 2015 season, Cunningham was added to the 40-man roster and will attempt to fill a role as a spare outfielder. While he's a plus defender in left field and capable of also handling center, Cunningham has below-average power, which limits his upside. What he does well at the plate are all of the little things that help the team win ballgames. He's an above-average runner, can hit-and-run, draws walks, controls the barrel and is an excellent bunter. With more emphasis on these types of skills in baseball in general, Cunningham may prove to be a valuable piece off the bench for the Angels. He could also provide outfield depth at Triple-A Salt Lake, but is out of options and would have to pass through waivers if he doesn't make the big league team out of spring training.
The Braves know what they have in Cunningham, who made his major league debut in 2013 and has spent most of the last two seasons at Triple-A Gwinnett. He performed better in repeating the assignment. Cunningham makes consistent contact with a smooth, compact swing from both sides of the plate. He has below-average power but will take a walk and knows his role whether he leads off or bats second. An excellent bunter, he had 13 sacrifice bunts in 2014 and is proficient at executing the hit-and-run. He's an above-average runner who can steal a base, and a solid-average defender in center field--and he grades as plus in left field--but with below-average arm strength that precludes him from right field. His arm accuracy, though, helped him rack up 11 assists in 2014. Cunningham fits best as an extra outfielder.
Cunningham made his major league debut in 2013 with two short stints near the end of his fourth season in the organization. He stroked a single in his first at-bat during a pinch-hit appearance. Cunningham made the jump to Triple-A Gwinnett and got off to a decent start but hit just .198/.274/.250 after the International League all-star break in July. He has a smooth, compact swing from both sides of the plate and makes consistent contact, which helps him limit strikeouts. He is also an effective bunter and can execute the hit-and-run as the No. 2 hitter. His on-base percentage lags due to relatively low walk totals, though he showed more patience during the first half of 2013. Cunningham has strong hands and quick wrists, and he hits hard line drives from gap to gap despite possessing limited power. An above-average runner with good first-step quickness, he is nevertheless only an average basestealer. He's a plus defender in center field who could easily handle left but lacks the arm strength to play right. Cunningham's tools do not lend themselves to an everyday role in the big leagues, but he could be a solid fourth outfielder once he gains more consistency at the plate. A return to Gwinnett appears most likely in 2014.
Cunningham had a breakout Double-A season in 2012 after battling a strained right elbow the year before, ranking third in the Southern League in batting (.309) and runs (77) while serving as one of the few consistent offensive contributors at Mississippi. He has a smooth swing from both sides of the plate and drives the ball from gap to gap despite having limited power. He has strong hands and makes good contact but doesn't accumulate many walks, a trend that needs to change if he's to remain at the top of the batting order. He has made progress in getting better reads and jumps on stolen-base attempts, and he's an intelligent and productive runner with plus speed. Cunningham has good first-step quickness and moves well on balls hit in all directions in center field. His arm strength is fringy, but he makes accurate throws, hits the cutoff man and makes the right decisions. Cunningham will move up to Triple-A in 2013 and should be ready for a major league opportunity soon. It may not come with the Braves after they committed to B.J. Upton in center field for the next five years.
The Braves used the 53rd overall pick in the 2010 draft on Cunningham, more specifically his bat. He won batting titles in the summer Texas Collegiate (.310) and Cape Cod (.378) leagues before batting .359 as a Jacksonville State junior. He hasn't delivered as much offense in pro ball, though he did go straight to low Class A after signing and was bothered by a strained right elbow in 2011. Club officials were encouraged by his performance in the Arizona Fall League and still believe he can become an impact player. Cunningham has a smooth, compact stroke from both sides of the plate. He produces line drives and does an excellent job of using the middle of the field. He excels at making contact and has strong hands, but he doesn't have much power. He profiles as a leadoff hitter but will need to draw more walks to fit that role. He has the above-average speed desired at the top of a lineup, but he's still learning to read pitches and steal bases. Cunningham has good instincts in center field, where he shows plus range and good first-step quickness. He has below-average arm strength, though the accuracy of his throws helps overcome their lack of carry. The Braves are likely to challenge Cunningham by putting him in Double-A to open this season, believing he could blossom provided he remains healthy throughout the campaign.
Braves scouting director Tony DeMacio put it simply enough when he said last June that Cunningham was drafted for his bat. He won a pair of summer league batting titles, hitting .310 in the Texas Collegiate League in 2008 and .378 in the Cape Cod League in 2009. After he batted .359 as a junior last spring, the Braves drafted him in the second round and signed him for $674,100. A switch-hitter, Cunningham stays inside the ball and drives pitches to the gaps from both sides of the plate. He has an outstanding approach, good patience and solid speed, allowing him to profile as a potential leadoff hitter. Atlanta believes he'll develop close to average power as he physically matures. Cunningham spent most of his time in center field last year, both in college and pro ball, and the Braves believe he can play almost anywhere in the infield or outfield. He has good hands and moves well, with his arm his lone tool that rates as below-average. His performance in spring training and whether Atlanta decides to try him as an infielder will determine whether he opens his first full pro season at Rome or Lynchburg.
Best Tools List
- Rated Best Defensive Outfielder in the Atlanta Braves in 2013
- Rated Best Hitter for Average in the Atlanta Braves in 2013
- Rated Best Defensive Outfielder in the Atlanta Braves in 2012
- Rated Best Strike-Zone Discipline in the Atlanta Braves in 2012