Brett Cumberland provides a powerful switch-hitting bat behind the plate

Does Brett Cumberland wind up behind the plate at the next level? We take a look at Cal's switch-hitting catcher on the first day of the MLB Draft.

California catcher Brett Cumberland was hitting .308 with six home runs, nine doubles, a .567 slugging percentage, a .475 on-base percentage and 26 RBIs through the first 33 games of his freshman campaign, until he ran into UCLA. While sliding into home, he injured his right hand, as the Bears dropped two of three to the Bruins.

It would be the first of two injuries Cumberland would later find out he'd sustained on his throwing hand, as he wound up finishing the season with three bone bruises and a sprained ligament. Over the final 24 games, he went 13-for-73 at the dish (.178). He still was named a Freshman All-American, but it wasn't the season he could have had. He finished hitting .254 with seven home runs, 10 doubles and 32 RBIs.

Cumberland was completely healthy this season, and took home Pac-12 Player of the Year honors, hitting .344 with a conference-leading 16 home runs and 51 RBIs, but towards the latter half of the season, he did fall off again, although not nearly as drastically as he did as a true freshman. He hit .400 through the first 31 games, but then went 14-for-53 (.264) through the finish line.

That said, he slugged .678 this year, and hit 16 home runs (11 left-handed) in a ballpark that's notoriously difficult to hit in for power, as a left-handed hitter. He's likely a first-day prospect, and Scout is hearing that he might wind up with the Oakland Athletics.

The scary thing about Cumberland is that, even having slumped as much as he did towards the end of the season, he was still the conference player of the year, and was nearly a Triple Crown winner. He was also far better from the left side of the plate than the right. If he had one more healthy year in college, given what I've seen, it's tough to argue against the fact that he would have evened out his performance on both sides of the plate and hit close to or above .400.

He did finish as a third-team All-American and a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award and the Golden Spikes Award, and his power tool is a plus-plus. Beyond that, he's got a mature plate approach. Cumberland finished sixth in the Pac-12 in batting average and first in home runs, and fifth in walks, with 38. With 10 HBPs, he was second in on-base percentage (.480). He did, however, have 40 strikeouts, and that's to be expected with a player who swings as hard as Cumberland does.

That said, he does have a good two-strike approach, and isn't afraid to shorten up and go the other way. Cumberland is short and direct to the ball, but he can get a bit long on the back half of his swing and that causes him to pull off at times. This is all nitpicking, of course, given that his quick hands, compact stroke, strength, approach and baseball IQ tab him as a fast riser through the minors.

His future may not be behind the plate, although he has shown some ability with his arm. He doesn't catch with a lot of energy, and is probably at the same place now as Andrew Knapp was as a junior, defensively. That's not to say he can't improve -- Knapp has greatly improved as a receiver during his rise through the minor leagues, and Cumberland could very well do the same -- but right now, it's his bat that plays. As the saying goes, his best position is 'hitter,' and while he does have a good arm, with the relative lack of running in the game today, that doesn't really play as much as it should.

While his speed tool is what you'd expect for a catcher, he did go 5-for-5 on stolen bases. Some of those were on missed hit-and-runs, but he does have a good eye for timing motions out of the stretch, and good timing on the base paths. He won't run into any outs, which is about the best you can expect from a player of his profile.

The best comp for Cumberland is probably Knapp, although I think Knapp is a better pure hitter from both sides of the plate, while Cumberland has more raw power, and needs to develop on the right side. What both Knapp and Cumberland have going for them is that their swings are the same on either side of the plate. Knapp is longer than Cumberland at 6-foot-1, 195 (Cumberland is 5-foot-11, 205), but the sound that Cumberland's bat makes when he makes contact is, I think, the most distinctive I've heard at this level. Knapp kept his bat in the zone a bit longer than Cumberland, but Cumberland I think is quicker to the ball.

What is concerning about Cumberland is the fact that he still needs to develop a bit as a right-handed hitter. As a lefty this season, Cumberland hit .410 (41-for-100) with 11 home runs and 33 RBIs. As a right-handed hitter, he was 21-for-80 (.263) with five home runs and 18 RBIs.

Remember: Out of the 1,650-plus career catchers in the Major Leagues, there have only been 82 switch-hitters.


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