Mailbag: Cumberland, Tekotte, and the Rest

Before we get started, I must thank David Eckstein for making me look smarter than I am. In case you missed it, no sooner do I admit to the world that I want Eckstein up in a crucial situation than he whacks an RBI single to tie Wednesday’s game with two out in the ninth on an 0-2 pitch. As Green Day says, sometimes I give myself the creeps.

Oh, and I liked the celebration after Adrian Gonzalez’s walk-off grand slam. It’s a shame Kendry Morales had to go and break his leg for people to figure out that maybe having everyone jump all over everyone else wasn’t the best way to protect multi-million dollar investments, but at least guys seem to have gotten the message.

Anyway, on to the mailbag. Reader Jake asks:

I was wondering if you have been following what Drew Cumberland, Blake Tekotte, and the rest of last year’s 100-win TinCaps have been doing at Lake Elsinore, Geoff. Should I be as excited about this class as I am?

Thanks, Jake, for the question. Yes, I have been following what the Storm are doing, and… well, I’m not sure how to quantify your level of excitment, so I’ll sidestep that one. I will say that there is a lot to like in the organization right now. Grady Fuson and company did a nice job of restocking the system before they departed. There still could be more top-end talent, but the depth at most positions is better than it was a few years ago.

As for Tekotte and Cumberland, both look like potential members of a future supporting cast to me. I’ve discussed them in a recent Hardball Times article, calling Tekotte “a future fourth outfielder, with an upside of Mark Kotsay light.” Not to kill anyone’s buzz, but sometimes that means Jeremy Reed.

I said in the Ducksnorts 2009 Baseball Annual that Tekotte “runs well on the bases and in the outfield, controls the strike zone, and has surprising pop for his size.” He is a legitimate center fielder and a tough hombre. The main knock on him is that he’s old for his league. I would like to see him pushed a little, maybe spend the second half at San Antonio and then get a shot at the big-league job next year.

Cumberland is a different animal. In person, he hasn’t impressed me as much as Tekotte has. Then again, Cumberland is younger and less polished, so maybe that shouldn’t come as a surprise.

What does come as a surprise is the power Cumberland is showing so far this year. He is not a big kid, and my suspicion is that his early performance is a bit flukish. At the same time, he has drawn comparisons to Baltimore’s Brian Roberts, who is a doubles machine, so maybe some of it is real.

Cumberland’s prior track record suggests he’s playing over his head. He isn’t a .376 hitter but he makes contact and runs well. Cumberland is a potential top-of-the-order presence who shouldn’t be rushed. From the linked Hardball Times article:

The main points in Cumberland’s favor are youth (he’s 21 in High-A), athleticism, defensive utility, and good strike-zone judgment (career .811 BB/K ratio). On the downside, he has no power, nor is he likely to develop any. Still, he possesses enough other skills that, assuming he avoids further injuries, he could end up having a productive big-league career a la Craig Counsell.

I continue to have concerns about the strength of Cumberland’s throwing arm, and I’d like to see more defensive reliability. Fielding percentage has its limitations, but he’s at .920 this year, which won’t get the job done. Still, even if he moves off shortstop, Cumberland’s bat should be strong enough to keep him moving forward.

Other kids at Elsinore I’m tracking include outfielder Jaff Decker, who is struggling now after starting the season on the disabled list; right-handed starter Anthony Bass; right-handed reliever Brad Brach (he’s 24, and the usual caveats about minor-league relievers apply, but dominance is dominance); and left-handed starter Juan Oramas (discussed in a previous mailbag).

Before the season, I also mentioned Aaron Breit, Allan Dykstra, Chris Fetter, and Nick Schmidt. If Dykstra can’t hit home runs (Cumberland has more, in fewer PA), he’s useless. Breit appears to be a full-time reliever now and not a particularly special one at that. Fetter coughed up six homers in his first four starts and hasn’t been heard from since (Josh Geer sends his regards).

Schmidt has a shiny ERA (3.26) but is walking a guy every other inning and not exactly racking up the strikeouts. I still hold out some hope for him, but at age 24, he hasn’t shown any signs of becoming a front-line starter or even a big-league pitcher. He might be better than Cesar Ramos, which isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement. Hindsight being what it is, Brett Cecil would have been a better pick at #23 in 2007.

I’m rambling now. Thanks again, Jake, for the question. I hope I’ve answered it to your satisfaction.

Tagged as: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

5 Responses »

  1. Not to be overly contentious, but I had some disagreements with your analysis.

    The big knock on Tekotte is that he doesn’t really have a good arm even for CF and he had some early problems with his swing mechanics – see his first two months in FW in ’09. His arm has gotten better, but it’s still not where he and the organization would like.

    Also, while I agree that Cumberland is somewhat playing over his head I don’t really think looking at his stats from years past is that helpful or indicative of future performances. (1) Until last year he never played over 53 games and even last year he was limited to 77. He continually was on and off the DL, which hurt his ability to really build and refine his skills which are so important in the development of a young player. (2) Starting last year he has made a concentrated effort to get stronger (he has put on at least 20 pounds since he was drafted in ’07) and this year it is starting to pay off, so I think it is paying off but he is also playing in a much better hitting environment than the Midwest League. So I think he has the potential for more power than you are giving him credit for. (3) Much of the problems with his arm had to do with his throwing motion and his grip on the ball, which was corrected last year.

  2. Thank you, Geoff. Thanks for the opinion!

  3. Kevin Goldstein at BPro wrote about the state of the Padres farm system today.

    I believe the article is behind the pay wall, but the basic summary is: Cumberland and Castro have been good, but the rest of the system (particularly the hitters) has been disappointing to this point. He mentions the struggles of Tate (with injuries), Darnell, Decker, Rincon, Williams, and Liriano. I’d say it’s still pretty early for Decker and Darnell (who have both been hurt), and it’s not surprising to see teenagers struggle in the Midwest League. Still, we’d like to see some of them get going.

    Goldstein has generally been pretty high on Cumberland in his minor league updates, even praising his defense.

  4. Serious question. How does a guy make it to 21 years old and playing pro ball have a problem with his grip? I can understand a problem with mechanics as throwing is a complex motion, but I don’t get having a problem with gripping the ball at that level.

  5. @John: Thanks for the additional insight. I have seen these guys only two or three times, so my sample is small. I didn’t notice any problems with Tekotte’s arm or swing when I saw him.

    As for Cumberland, he looked like a guy whose game plan should be to keep the ball on the ground. This is one man’s opinion only, but a concern I have is that if he starts trying to hit for more power, it could come at the expense of an existing strength.

    On defense, the first time I saw him, he committed three errors. At least one, maybe two, of those came on throws. I don’t know about his grip, but the issue I noticed had to with him not setting his feet. That didn’t seem to be as much of a problem the second time I saw him, so maybe it was a fluke. Hopefully you are right, and he is a better player than I think… which is already a good player, with potential to improve.

    @Jake: My pleasure; thanks for the question.

    @Ben: Good to hear that Goldstein likes Cumberland’s defense. Between him and John, that’s two people I trust more than myself to know about such things.