Forgotten man? Pirates high on righty Cumpton
Overshadowed by higher-profile prospects, pitcher has makeup to succeed
Clint Hurdle calls it "outside noise." And a lot of it is now being raised for right-handers Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow who, at No. 16 and No. 27, respectively, gave the Pirates the highest-ranking pitching tandem in MLB.com's list of Top 100 Prospects.
People are similarly enthused over the promise of other arms in the system -- most notably that of Luis Heredia and Nick Kingham. They were excited by Gerrit Cole already delivering on that promise, and look forward to more.
Falling in the crack between promise offered and delivered is Brandon Cumpton, who has neither the fanfare nor the drool of scouts. Maybe that's the lot of ninth-round Draft picks (in 2010) who don't scorch mitts with high-90s heat.
What this 25-year-old righty does have is an intriguing Major League baptismal, and "inside" cred.
"He hasn't fallen between any cracks for us," said Larry Broadway, the Bucs' director of Minor League operations. "He may not get as much attention from the media, but he hasn't fallen off the radar from our perspective. He's very much a part of our plans, definitely in the mix."
Cumpton made his big league debut on June 15, 2013, against the Dodgers, as a sub for A.J. Burnett, who two days earlier had gone on the disabled list with a right calf strain. Could Cumpton now be the permanent replacement for Burnett, if the veteran elects to retire or to sign with another team?
Cumpton will check into Pirate City for the start of Spring Training next month with a pretty neat feather: A scoreless streak of 15 innings across the final three of his six appearances with the Bucs.
Also neat: His No. 12 was retired the other day by the Greenbrier (Ga.) High School Wolfpack, his prep alma mater.
The Hurdle-Neal Huntington Pirates love big arms with swing-and-miss stuff. Cumpton does not have that (90 strikeouts in 122 innings last season with Triple-A Indianapolis). What the Georgian does have is mound smarts and grit.
"He's got good enough stuff and all that," Broadway said, "but the separator that makes him a successful competitor is the fortitude he has on the mound. That's the first thing that comes to mind with him -- how competitive he is.
"When he takes the mound, he almost pitches angry. He won't back down. He's not going to throw 96-97 or have a huge breaking ball, but he won't get scared."
The Pirates saw repeated evidence of that. In three stints last season with the big league club, Cumpton went 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA over six appearances (five starts). He was scored on in only four of the 31 innings he worked.
Most impressive, Cumpton's Major League landing was anything but soft: Five of his six outings were against postseason clubs (Dodgers, Cardinals, thrice Reds). Hurdle got an instant look at Cumpton's makeup when, in his debut, he dueled eventual National League Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw to a 1-1 standoff through five innings.
Hurdle was impressed with Cumpton's "fastball command to both sides of the plate, and he was aggressive inside with a very good mix of pitches. He's a pitch-to-contact guy, and he went after them."
Cumpton had been blindsided by his mid-June promotion from Indianapolis, ahead of some higher-profile prospects, and the unexpected development may have prevented a buildup of butterflies. But, as Broadway attested, the look in Cumpton's eyes says the bigger the challenge, the louder the response.
"I tried to learn from each outing," Cumpton said in reflection of his 2013 cameos. "Take the positive and stick it in the memory bank, and also note what I struggled with and continue to work on those things and hopefully keep getting better."
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.