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Braves NRI In-Depth: Todd Cunningham

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Todd Cunningham will look to stay healthy and improve with the bat in 2012.
Todd Cunningham will look to stay healthy and improve with the bat in 2012.

After a so-so debut with Low A Rome in 2010 that saw him hit .260 with a .679 OPS, 9 doubles, 20 RBI, and 7 stolen bases in 65 games, Todd Cunningham was looking forward to his first full season with High A Lynchburg. Unfortunately a series of leg injuries turned it into more of a half season, as he played in just 87 games for the HIllcats, hitting .257 with a .701 OPS, 12 doubles, 4 triples, 4 homers, 20 RBI, and 14 stolen bases in 386 plate appearances.

More than anything, Cunningham needs a healthy 2012, but he also needs to show more with the bat when he is on the field. He won a batting title in the Cape Cod Summer League while in college, but as a professional he has a .257 career average. He's a hands first, contact hitter, and so far he hasn't been making contact. He also hasn't shown a ton of patience for a player who projects as a two hole hitter, walking in 8.5% of his plate appearances with Lynchburg, while striking out in 12.2%. He doesn't provide much in the way of slugging, with 23% of his hits last season going for extra bases, and at his age, 23 in March, with his batting approach, he's unlikely to develop much power. Defensively, he's an above average fielder with an average arm capable of playing all three outfield positions. He would probably be best in left field, but his defense is solid enough in center field that he's very playable there.

Major League Spring Training should be a good experience for Cunningham, since he'll be able to spend time with veteran hitters who can teach him how to refine his approach for better contact, and possibly even how to maximize the power in his swing. At his age it would make sense if the Braves started him out at AA Mississippi, but there's also a chance he could start the year at Lynchburg again, if only to get some confidence under his belt for a month before moving him up.