Padres Prospect Interview: Drew Cumberland

FORT WAYNE, IN-- For an organization that has a reputation of drafting only college players, the Padres in the past few years have become pretty good at getting the most out of their few high school selections.

In 2006, San Diego selected Kyler Burke and Cedric Hunter in their first five picks, this year they selected Jaff Decker, who so far has had the best debut of any 2008 draft pick and in 2007 the Padres selected Florida high school shortstop Drew Cumberland.

While Burke didn't work out, and was later traded for catcher Michael Barrett; Hunter, Decker and Cumberland are three of the more exciting prospects in San Diego's organization, all with world of talent and potential, and all under 21.

Last year, Cumberland, 19, put together a very good year in the Arizona League, .318/.389/.365 and hit well in a brief stint in Eugene. Before going down with a rib injury, he was having his best month hitting 432/.500/.523 in his first 44 at-bats.

Overall this year, Cumberland is hitting .286/.348/.350, with 16 stolen bases in 20 attempts. He has a 17/24 BB/K ratio and has played 43 of 51 games at shortstop. His fielding has improved since a rocky first month, but the Padres organization believes that he has the tools to become a plus fielder. The only negative is his arm, which is considered average.

Although he has a slight build at 5-foot-10, 170-pounds., Cumberland is a tremendous athlete and was an all-state selection at defensive back that turned down a full ride to Florida State.

First of all can you go over your recent injury and how long you expect to be out?

Drew Cumberland: A few weeks ago, I got hit by a fastball in the ribs. I played through it and it was a little sore when I threw the baseball. I made a swing, and felt it catch a little and then the other day I swung at an outside fastball and had to drop the bat, something really caught. Right now, they don't know if it's a cracked rib or a bad strain, but they are going to send me down to Arizona to get better rehab on it.

It has to be disappointing for you right now because you are having your best month.

Drew Cumberland: Yeah, it happens like that sometimes, you are seeing the ball well and I was hitting the ball at the plate. It's unfortunate but things like that happen.

I was sorry that I missed getting a chance to see you play, Gary Jones the Padres minor league infield coordinator, was raving about you. What is the biggest difference for you playing in the Midwest League compared to playing in high school last year? So many talented players fall on their face when they come up, especially at the plate. Why have you been able to hold your own against many players that are three or four years older?

Drew Cumberland: The biggest thing is knowing that you can play with everybody and trying not to look at that age difference. I don't try to think I'm better than anyone or anyone is better than me. If you have that competitive attitude, and you think, ‘I'm not going to let this guy beat me.' A big thing that helped me is having a brother that is a pro ball player [Shaun Cumberland, an outfielder with Chattanooga (Reds) in the Southern League] who is in his sixth season, and he comes back and gives me a lot of knowledge on what he has learned. I also had an uncle who played pro ball for nine years. So every year he would also come back and teach me how to play the game the right way.

It seems like you not only got some more information on what to do, but also on what not to do.

Drew Cumberland: You play the game the right way, not the wrong way. You hustle even if it's a routine play; you never know what can happen. Get on base and help the team out. That is what it is all about, helping the team out.

Earlier in the season Grady Fuson talked about you switching to a smaller glove to help you more in the field.

Drew Cumberland: In high school I did use one that was a quarter of an inch bigger.

A quarter of an inch makes that much of a difference?

Drew Cumberland: It was also that I put two fingers in the last hole of the glove and they wanted to switch me to putting a finger in each hole of the glove so I would have better control. I've done it that one way my whole life, so changing with a finger in each hole and a finger out was a little different. It felt like the glove was a little long and balls were just tipping off of the end that was going in before, but I've gotten used to it now. I feel just as comfortable the new way now as I did the old way.

Your name always comes up in conversations about how many different positions you could potentially play because of your speed, even center field which you have yet to play. Where do you feel most comfortable and where do you want to play?

Drew Cumberland: I would love to stay in the infield either at short or second because of the action. I feel comfortable at shortstop, and I haven't heard any talk about moving to the outfield. Right now shortstop is where I feel comfortable and I love playing shortstop. However, if they want me to move to the outfield, I would be open to it as long as it gets me to the position where I can make the big leagues and play regularly.

Your fielding percentage has picked up each month. Is it because the weather is warming up and you are getting truer bounces? I don't want to try to make excuses, but there are also reasons.

Drew Cumberland: I would say it's the repetition. You come out here and take ground balls in BP. The more ground balls you take, the more you are used to making the play. The ball is hit to you, you make the play. Catch the ball, throw the ball. The key is to get to the point where you aren't thinking about it. You have to make the plays, defense wins games.

Is it because so many of your family played professional ball the reason why you are a left-handed hitter? Did they switch you around when you were younger?

Drew Cumberland: Actually my dad figured there were more right-handed pitchers out there so he always put the bat on the left side for both my brother and me, who is the same as I am – bats lefty, throws righty.

What is the biggest thing that anyone who is drafted into the pros from high school is going to have to adjust too?

Drew Cumberland: Probably the everyday aspect of it. It will wear on your body. I've had a few injuries and when I come back after a week I have to retrain my body to get used to the everyday thing.

You seem pretty comfortable with the mental aspect of the game, especially compared to young guys who are playing the middle infield. It doesn't seem to grind on you.

Drew Cumberland: No not really. As I said, my brother has told me what to expect. You know if something happens in the field, shake it off you only have 140 more games to play. You will have plenty of more chances. The same thing with hitting. If you strike out, you take it out to the field or your next at bat it's only going to hurt you. The quicker you can shake it off, the better off you are going to be.

You were a pretty good football player coming out of high school; in fact you had a scholarship to play defensive back at Florida State. Was it tough to give up football?

Drew Cumberland: It was just something I did on a Friday night; baseball is what I always wanted to do. I told college football coaches not to worry that much about recruiting me because this is where I always wanted to be.

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