Last year was a roller coaster ride for Brett Cumberland. The sophomore sensation put together a stellar season at the plate in his final year with the Bears, which culminated in the Atlanta Braves selecting him with the 76th overall pick but immediately slumped at the plate in his transition to professional ball.
A full year removed from his last official game with the Bears, and now fully immersed in his professional career, the former Pac-12 Player of the Year has started to shed the memories of his egregious start and beginning to develop into a player worthy of high selection.
Cumberland, 22, began the season as the Braves’ 19th-best prospect, according to FanGraphs. MLB Pipeline had Cumberland unranked entering the season, but the catcher earned a spot in the team’s top 30 with his performance at the plate, hitting for a solid average while tapping into his lauded raw power.
The backstop began the season with the Low-A Rome Braves and generated attention as he tore up South Atlanta League pitching. In late May, Cumberland headlined MLB Pipeline’s Team of the Week and received SAL Player of the Week honors after hitting a blistering .432 with five home runs and 20 RBI over a ten-game stretch.
Cumberland continued to hit well for the Braves and was promoted to the High-A Florida Fire Frogs in late June. In 55 games for Rome, Cumberland totaled 10 home runs, 48 RBI and a .263 batting average for Rome before the call-up.
The catcher’s success at the plate in Low-A has yet to fully translate to High-A. While his batting average with the Fire Frogs has nearly exceeded that of his time with the Braves, Cumberland’s overall offensive productivity has taken a hit as his on-base percentage, slugging percentage and walk rate have all dropped off.
About a month following his promotion, Cumberland was once again fire over a 16-game-stretch from July 15 to Aug, 4, going on an eight-game hitting streak during that time and registering a hit in all but two of those games. Despite Cumberland’s inability to tap into his raw power during this stretch, he hit .414 with an on-base percentage of .507.
Since that blistering stretch, Cumberland has fallen into another cold spell with the bat. In 413 combined plate appearances at both Low-A and High-A, Cumberland boasts a batting average of .276.
An intriguing feature of Cumberland’s offensive game that has translated well from college ball to the pros is his ability to earn free trips on base in a peculiar way: not by way of the walk, but by getting hit. This season alone, Cumberland has reached base 39 times by getting plunked. Including his time in rookie ball after being drafted, Cumberland has been hit 50 times, which accounts for 21.7 percent of the time he has reached base in his professional career.
“It’s kind of funny, because I’m not on the plate at all,” Cumberland said in an interview with FanGraphs’ David Laurila. “I think guys just try to get in on my hands, and they miss, so I end up wearing a pitch.”
Evaluators believe that he will eventually transition away from catching and play either left field or first base. His potential largely lies in his bat an; as for Cumberland’s catching ability, his arm has been considered average, and he doesn’t help himself with a mediocre release time. So far, he has allowed 89 steals and has only caught 28 runners.
Cumberland will likely transition to a different position sooner rather than later, especially with fellow top-prospect Alex Jackson catching for Atlanta’s Double-A affiliate. Luckily for Cumberland, his power makes him well-suited for the two aforementioned positions.
As for Cumberland’s long-term future, there is a good chance he continues to move through Atlanta’s minor league system and start next season in Double-A with the Mississippi Braves. Playing in the Southern League will be the catcher’s first real test of professional ball because of the stark difference in talent between the two levels, and it should provide a clearer picture of Cumberland’s future career.