Padres Prospect Interview: Drew Cumberland

FORT WAYNE, IN: The popular buzzword by San Diego media pundits not to familiar with the Padres' minor leagues is "athleticism".

While everyone agrees it's better to have "athletic ballplayers" in your system, its also important to remember the key word is the later, "ballplayers". Because regardless of how fast you can run, throw or jump; its still important to know how to perform what many contend is the most difficult skill game of the three major sports.

Fort Wayne TinCaps shortstop Drew Cumberland is the rare talent that is both an exceptional athlete as well as an outstanding baseball player. He was recruited by Florida State as a defensive back and both his uncle and brother played professional baseball. Additionally, it is rare to find a player of his age with a better understanding of what it mentally takes to become a major league ballplayer.

The left-handed hitting Cumberland had a strong first year in the AZL after being drafted by San Diego in the supplemental first-round of the 2007 draft, hitting .310/.383/.357.

Last year, he showed some ability, but injuries limited him to only 53 games. This year he has had some stints on the disabled list but for the most part has been healthy.

He's put on about 10 pounds of good weight and the ball is beginning to carry more off of his bat and some adjustment to his throwing mechanics are starting to erase doubts if he has the arm strength to stay at shortstop.

What is the biggest difference you see between yourself and the team from last year?

Drew Cumberland: I'm trying to stay more consistent and really stay on the field. I've had some setbacks this year, but I'm healthy now. The team is just a whole lot looser and has come together a little bit better than last year. A lot of that is a reflection of our manager, Doug Dascenzo, who wants us to play music real loud and have fun because even though it is our job, its still a game and you need to have fun.

You can tell just by watching what is going on in the clubhouse that all of you seem to be real close. It seems like you have put on some good weight from last year.

Drew Cumberland: I worked out at Athlete's Performance in Pensacola, Florida and one of the guys I actually got to work out with was Manny Ramirez for three months. I tried to put on some more weight and came in around 190. I've lost a little bit of weight, I'm down to 182. I wanted to get more gap power than home runs. I wanted to put my body in a little better physical condition.

You have to go on a little more about working out with Manny Ramirez. What was that like?

Drew Cumberland: It was very cool. I saw his name on the board because I was there about a week or two before he was and at first I didn't think it was him. It just had "M. Ramirez" on the board.

I asked one of the trainers if it was him and he said it was. For the first week, I was just star struck and actually didn't get to work out with him for the first two weeks. After that both of us and our trainer started to work out together. He was a great guy, very relaxed and funny. What I don't think people know is how hard he works.

All of the stuff about "Manny being Manny" kind of masks how much work he puts in to do what he does, but also how mentally prepared he is.

Drew Cumberland: Yeah, everyday he is full out. He's never lazy, whatever he is doing he tries to make it fun, but he goes hard. One thing he said that kind of stuck with me is he said, "Can you believe I get to do this for a living?" Then he said, "Its my job and I get to do it everyday." Really made me think how lucky I am.

One thing that impressed me about you last year that you have so many family members that played professional baseball and most of them spent a lot of time in the minors; so it wasn't just a rocket ship to take you to the major leagues. So you seemed to have a pretty good idea of the mental preparation that is needed to succeed.

Drew Cumberland: Getting hurt is never fun and no one likes sitting on the bench. When they put you on the DL, you have to know that they are looking out for you, even if you don't want to go. You have to keep a positive attitude and be ready to go when you get back in there.

As far as having family members, I kind of knew what to expect coming into pro ball. My parents would actually ship me off in the summer growing up on traveling teams to get used to being away and playing ball. It was a little easier for me with my brother and uncle giving me advice. Anytime I've been hurt, I've spoken with them and they keep me upbeat.

Your arm has always been a question at shortstop. We talked to Grady Fuson a little about that and he said that when you throw your ball always has a bit of natural sink and they worked with you to improve upon that this year. Could you explain that a little?

Drew Cumberland: My ball would kind of tail down to the right. In one of the Instructs they drew a ball for me with a line in the center that when you threw a four-seam they wanted to see backspin, instead of tailing off to the right. That helped a lot and also I used to throw the ball closer to my head and more short armed the throw. Now I've stretched it out a little more, kept my arm a little higher which has also helped.

Second and short on the surface seem very similar, but when you look at it in more depth they are really pretty different. The plays and angles you have to make are really pretty different. What kind of adjustment has that been for you?

Drew Cumberland: When I went to second for one series, the first couple balls that were hit to me seemed really strange, just the angles and speed. I never used to think it before when playing short when a center fielder went to play left or right about the difference. You know, like its still being hit to you; but now I can see it.

After that I took more reps in BP and it seemed more natural for you. I like short, I've pretty much played there my whole life but wherever they want me to play I'm fine.

If you had to pick one thing to really improve upon as you go up, what would that be?

Drew Cumberland: For me it would be defense. I really want to become more consistent on defense and be very sure-handed out there. On offense, just squaring more balls up and hitting them hard. Whatever happens after that, happens. Its all you can do.

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