Oakland A's Prospect Profile Aaron Cunningham
Name: Aaron Cunningham
H/W: 5'11''/ 195 LB
Cunningham was originally taken in the sixth round of the 2005 draft by the Chicago White Sox out of Everett Community College in Washington state. He was sent to short-season Bristol of the Appalachian League after signing with the Sox, and he fared well, batting .315 with an 838 OPS in 56 games. That earned Cunningham a cup-of-coffee with Low-A Kannapolis at the tail-end of the 2005 season.
Kannapolis was Cunningham's home in 2006. He appeared in only 95 games, but he made them count, batting .303 with 11 homers and an 879 OPS. Cunningham also stole 19 bases, although he was caught 10 times.
In 2007, Cunningham was sent to the White Sox's High-A affiliate, Winston-Salem. He got off to a strong start and made the Carolina League All-Star team after batting .294 with eight homers, 22 stolen bases and an 852 OPS in 67 games. Ironically, he played for the Carolina League in the California-Carolina League All-Star game, but was traded to the Arizona Diamondbacks during that All-Star break and suited up for the California League's Visalia Oaks immediately after the All-Star game.
Cunningham found the California League to his liking, as he hit .358 with a 939 OPS in 29 games for the Oaks. That was enough for Arizona to promote Cunningham to Double-A Mobile, where he spent the rest of the season. He made a smooth transition to Double-A, batting .288 with five homers and an 898 OPS in 31 games. In total on the season, Cunningham hit .308 with 57 extra-base hits (including 16 homers), 77 RBI, 28 stolen bases and an 885 OPS.
After the regular season was over, Cunningham was sent to Arizona as one of the Diamondbacks' representatives at the Arizona Fall League. He appeared in 24 games for the Scottsdale Scorpions, batting .267 with two homers and a 745 OPS.
Cunningham has drawn comparisons to former A's outfielder Eric Byrnes (who, ironically, was one of the outfielders blocking Cunningham in Arizona). Like Byrnes, Cunningham has a reputation for being a full-effort player who has his motor running at all times. Also like Byrnes, Cunningham is a prospect who looks better when taking in the whole package than he does when looking at his individual tools. Cunningham does pretty much everything well – he hits for average, throws well and has developing power and above-average speed – but he doesn't have one tool that really stands out. This has caused a number of scouts to dismiss Cunningham as a future fourth outfielder or platoon player, a label that was often placed on Byrnes before he finally was given a full-time opportunity by the Diamondbacks and ran with it.
Cunningham uses an open stance at the plate, but he does a good job of using the whole field. He spent the off-season before the 2007 campaign working out with Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn, who worked with Cunningham on using the whole field. Cunningham puts a lot of time in at the batting cage and is reportedly very coachable. His swing is on the longer side, which makes him vulnerable to hard, inside fastballs, but he has good bat speed and quick hands through the strike zone.
Defensively, Cunningham has been primarily a corner outfielder throughout his minor league career, although the Diamondbacks had begun to transition Cunningham to centerfield last season. His bat plays better in center, so he will have a greater chance at a long career in the major leagues if he can stick in centerfield. Cunningham has good speed and a good arm, but he is still working on taking the proper angle to the ball.
Cunningham stole 28 bases in 2007, but that came in 42 opportunities. The A's won't let Cunningham run that much if he isn't stealing at a 75 percent or better rate, so don't be surprised if Cunningham's stolen base totals drop dramatically in 2008. He has good speed, but he has struggled with his jumps off of first base at times. If the A's coaching staff works to teach him more of the nuances of stealing bases, he could be a 15-20 stolen base guy in the major leagues down the road.
Cunningham more than held his own in a five-week stint in Double-A at the end of the 2007 season. The A's could push him to Triple-A in 2008. However, he will be only 22 next season and the A's have a number of outfielders who are likely ticketed for Triple-A (including the other outfielder acquired by the A's in the Dan Haren trade, Carlos Gonzalez). If Gonzalez winds-up in the major leagues at the start of the 2008 season, Cunningham could be sent directly to Double-A. Otherwise, it is likely that Cunningham will begin the year in Double-A and possibly make the jump to Triple-A mid-season.
Thanks to the Haren trade, the A's suddenly have a crowd of options for their outfield in 2009 and beyond. Cunningham will have to compete with the likes of Gonzalez, Javier Herrera and Jermaine Mitchell for the opportunity to start alongside Travis Buck and Nick Swisher in the Oakland outfield. He doesn't have the raw tools that some of those other A's prospects have, but he has put up better numbers than all of them thus far in his career. If Cunningham continues to produce like he has during his first three minor league seasons, he will get an opportunity at the major league level sometime over the next two years. Whether that opportunity is with Oakland or another team will likely be dependent on the development of some of the A's other outfield prospects.
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