Padres Q&A: Aaron Cunningham

Washington, DC: Aaron Cunningham was drafted in the sixth-round of the 2005 draft by the Chicago White Sox out of Everett Junior College just north of Seattle, Washington.

Despite putting up solid numbers throughout his minor league career, Cunningham, 24, has been part of three different trades, first to the Arizona Diamondbacks for second baseman Danny Richar, in a rare prospect for prospect trade, and then from the D-Backs to the A's as part of the Dan Haren deal.

In the winter of 2009, Oakland, with a surplus of outfielders, traded him to the Padres along with outfielder Scott Hairston for third baseman Kevin Kouzmanoff and prospect Eric Sogard.

After a very strong spring training where he impressed the Padres with his gap power and speed, Cunningham was caught in a numbers game and sent to Portland; but did supplant former top prospect outfielder Chad Huffman for a place on the 40-man roster as one of the top outfielders the team would call in case of injury.

He struggled for the first six weeks with the Beavers before coming on in June, where he was hitting .346/.433/.654 before being called up.

You had a very good spring training with the Padres and then you struggled for your first six weeks in Portland. Were you putting too much pressure on yourself?

Aaron Cunningham: The weird thing was it was really the first time I had really ever struggled. I thought that I had put myself in a good position to be one of the first called up and just had a tough time.

I may have done it some other time in my career, but usually my average was up high enough I didn't really notice it. When you do it right off of the gate, it's tough on your confidence, but I was really starting to turn it around when I got called up and that really helped to get my confidence where it needed to be.

It must have been tough to look up at the scoreboard and see .180 up there.

Aaron Cunningham: [laughs] Yeah it was. You know, even when I got up to around .260, it wasn't even that great. I had never really done this before. I tried to look at it as a positive that I'm going to need to learn how to deal with this - and how to get out of it - if I'm going to play in the major leagues.

When you did start to hit was it a question of keeping your confidence and maintaining your same routines?

Aaron Cunningham: My approach wasn't right and I wasn't right with my approach. I kind of knew what I had to do, but I wasn't buying into it. As soon as I became more fully committed to my approach, that is when I started to see the results.

As far as having an approach, you seem like the poster child for everything the Padres want from your minor league stats. You take your walks and have some pop.

Aaron Cunningham: Every year, I've been very similar in terms of OBP, slugging and OPS. I've been around .400 with my OBP and OPS is around .900 and the opening six months was pretty tough.

You mean six weeks, if it was six months you would be pulling your hair out.

Aaron Cunningham: [laughs] Six weeks, yeah six months would have been tough.

When I look at you defensively you can play all three outfield positions, which usually means you grew up playing centerfield. Is that true with you?

Aaron Cunningham: No, I didn't, and actually, I was a terrible defender in high school. I tried to play second base, but I ended up being a DH in high school. It was the strangest thing – I couldn't make the throw from second to first.

What changed?

Aaron Cunningham: My senior year in high school they put me in the outfield, and I wasn't that good out there either, but I found out that I had a good arm. At the end, I was first team all league DH, which is kind of embarrassing now [laughs].

Then I went to JUCO and didn't start developing in the outfield until I went to the Diamondbacks in '07. They gave me a lot of confidence, put me in center field, and I have gotten better ever since.

What is the most comfortable position for you in the outfield?

Aaron Cunningham: I love center but I'm not the prototypical center fielder because I'm fast, but not that fast. I guess if it was my choice it would be right field. I feel more comfortable out there. Center is probably the easier one because you get better reads, but I don't see myself playing that much out there; but I really like right.

Right is pretty tough out in PETCO a lot real unique features out there.

Aaron Cunningham: You always have to get used to any new stadium but I think I have it down pretty well.

You have some pop for someone who is not that big. It seems you get a lot of your legs into your swing.

Aaron Cunningham: Its got to be in the legs, and my family all has stout legs. Its funny, my sister and my little brother both have much more pop than I do and none of us are really big people.

I would say it's in the legs, and maybe I use my whole body quite a bit.

What is it like getting used to playing before major league crowds instead of a little over a thousand in the minor leagues?

Aaron Cunningham: Honestly, it took me awhile at first. I was up in '08 and a little last year and I was nervous. It could have been the crowds, the team, I really don't know. However, this year, its been really different. I haven't been nervous and have just felt really comfortable with the team since I've been here.

Most interviews that I have read or heard you have repeatedly stated how comfortable you are in this clubhouse. What makes it so comfortable?

Aaron Cunningham: Everyone here is just so open because everyone is so approachable. You feel that you can not only be teammates but long-term friends. There is something special because its very welcoming to guys that come to play everyday.

It really doesn't matter what the score is, we believe that we are going to battle back. Its awesome. I've only been here a short time but it seems like we always find a way to win.

We bunt, play small ball, can get the big hit; I love it.

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