Prospect Report: Brandon Cunniff

Could Brandon Cunniff see time in Atlanta this season?

Brandon Cunniff is on the Atlanta Braves 40-man roster. But who in the heck is this guy the Braves plucked off the Frontier League’s Southern Illinois Minors roster in June of 2013? How did he so quickly go from a no-name to a player now possibly on the cusp of the major leagues?

Well, Cunniff has been outstanding since he’s been in the Atlanta system. After he signed, Cunniff pitched in 20 games for Lynchburg and posted a 1.99 ERA. This past season Cunniff was even better.

The right-hander started the season back in Lynchburg, but after nine scoreless appearances, with 21 strikeouts in 15.2 innings, the Braves moved Cunniff up to Double-A Mississippi. Cunniff continued to do well, as he posted a 2.05 ERA in 33 games, with 39 hits allowed in 52.2 innings, 20 walks and 50 strikeouts.

That’s a 1.58 ERA in his 42 games, with only 44 hits allowed in 68.1 innings, 27 walks and 71 strikeouts for the 2014 season.

And with that, Cunniff will head to major league camp in February on the 40-man roster.

Cunniff was originally drafted by the Marlins in the 27th round of the 2010 draft out of Cal-State San Bernardino. He spent only one year in their system and then was in the Frontier League in 2011, 2012 and for the first half of 2013 before the Braves brought him back into pro ball.

If you count his time in the independent leagues, Cunniff has allowed only 169 hits in 237.2 innings, with 287 strikeouts. Those are incredible numbers and obviously show how productive Cunniff can be on the mound.

The Braves sent Cunniff, who turned 26 on October 7 right after last season, to the Arizona Fall League. He pitched in 11 games and had a 3.21 ERA, with 16 hits allowed in 14 innings, five walks and 10 strikeouts.

Cunniff has a four-seam fastball that hits 94 mph, along with a hard sinker that is also in the low-90s. Cunniff also has a slider that ranges between 81-83 mph and a changeup.

The Braves will have a tremendous open competition for bullpen spots in March, so Cunniff will get a look. Now, he’s got a lot of people ahead of him on the list, but the Braves must think highly of Cunniff to want him in big league camp.

Cunniff, who stands 6-0 and weighs around 185 pounds, is a bit older. He’s 26, so you have to keep that in mind. Since he pitched 33 games in Double-A last season, the Braves may want to push Cunniff up to Triple-A Gwinnett. But there will be a ton of pitchers battling for innings on the Triple-A roster, so Cunniff will need a good spring training to avoid returning to Mississippi.

Shae Simmons and Chasen Shreve proved last year that minor league relievers can move quickly in the Atlanta farm system. So if Cunniff can do well, there is no doubt he will be on the radar and have his name on the list as a potential option when the Braves need bullpen help during the season.

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