Brandon Cumpton is off to a staggeringly strong start this season. However, that is not something that he is generally accustomed to.
This is a trend that holds up statistically as well, as 2014 is the only successful April that Cumpton has compiled in professional baseball. In 2013, Cumpton allowed 16 earned runs in 28 innings with Altoona and Indianapolis. In 2012, he allowed 10 earned runs in 25 innings with Altoona. But the most astounding is the 21 earned runs in 13 innings that he allowed with West Virginia in 2011.
This season, Cumpton got the early season woes out of his system in his first three Spring Training starts. In those games, he allowed seven runs (only three earned) in nine innings. In his final two games of the spring, he allowed just one earned run on five hits in 9.2 innings.
“I have kind of noticed that I come out the gates a little slow and need to get adjusted to stuff,” Cumpton said. “I came out and got hit around a little bit and it kind of put me back to the drawing board to figure some things out. I feel like I finished really strong in Spring Training and so far it has carried over into the season.”
Cumpton has allowed 20 base runners in 19 innings, with only three runs over the span. He has struck out 11, while only walking three. The success at the end of last season was another source that Cumpton credits for his early season success, but he still has a goal to accomplish soon.
“I want to be the guy who can get out there and go deep, go six or seven innings,” he said. “I haven’t gotten to 100 pitches yet, so I am kind of looking forward to that. Hopefully in the next outing, I should be able to get to 100 pitches. I am really just continuing what I have been working on for the last year or two, which is going deep into games.”
In order to go deep in games, Cumpton sets up hitters by establishing the fastball early and then working off of it with the off speed pitches that he possesses. With this, Cumpton looks to get ahead of hitters with the fastball and get them to put the ball in play on the ground within the first three pitches of the at bat. This season, his groundball to flyball ratio is 1.4:1. Though the ratio in 2012 was over 2:1, he figures to be around the 1.3 to 1.5 range.
Indianapolis pitching coach Tom Filer said that part of the game plan is for Cumpton to be a little more fastball dominant, due to “him having a good one.” He said that of 80 pitches in a game, it is expected for about 60 of them to be fastballs, which Cumpton hits in the low to mid 90s.
“He has a lot of confidence in it and it has a little bit of a second gear to it,” Filer said. “It has a different look. It has a little more kick and a little more run to it. He has a lot of life to his stuff.”
Along with the fastball, Cumpton possesses a slider and change-up, which he stated that he is working to further develop.
“As a big sinker ball guy, I am looking to refine those secondary pitches,” Cumpton said. “I need to be able to throw them in there when I am behind in the count or to throw them early in the count to help complement my fastball.”
With his accompaniment of pitches, one National League scout projects Cumpton as a four to five starter in the Major Leagues.
“He clearly knows how to pitch,” the scout said. “He has good mound presence. He is not dominant like a top of the rotation guy, but he has good stuff and shows the ability of a fourth.”
Though the scout admitted that Cumpton does not have dominant, overpowering stuff, he said that all of Cumpton’s pitches are “at least average.”
Filer also mentioned Cumpton’s competitiveness as another perk. He pointed to Cumpton’s last start as a prime example.
“I did not think that he was very good in his first couple innings, yet he was still affective because he is a tenacious competitor,” Filer said. “He competes against both himself and the other team. (In that start), I thought that his last three to four innings were his best this year. He’s learning as we go and I think that he is learning what he can and can’t do.”
It is a combination of each of those attributes that makes Cumpton the expected starter to replace Wandy Rodriguez in Thursday’s start against the Reds. Cumpton’s early season success mixed with some momentum that he built in Pittsburgh last season allows me to believe that he will be there to stay this year.
Ryan has been following Indianapolis baseball for most of his life, and the Pirates since they became the affiliate in 2005. He began writing for Pirates Prospects in 2013, in a stint that ran through 2016 (with no service time manipulation played in). Ryan rejoined the team in 2022, covering Indianapolis once again. He has covered the Pirates in four different big league stadiums. Ryan was also fortunate enough to cover the 2015 Futures Game in Cincinnati.