We've talked about a couple of difference makers in the minors that could join the big team next summer. But there's a guy that was entirely off the radar last year who contributed to the Pirates playoff run, and he has a pretty good shot at showing up on the 2014 roster before Jameson Taillon and Gregory Polanco. Yep, we're talking Brandon Cumpton, who will turn 25 next month.
The righty was drafted out of Georgia Tech in the ninth round of the 2010 draft and got a cup of coffee with short season State College. He spent 2011 and 2012 climbing the ladder, moving from Bradenton in 2011, and from Bradenton to Altoona in 2012. His work was best described as workmanlike; nothing except a low walk percentage and decent ground ball rate really stood out.
He started 2013 with the Curve and was pretty well lit up in a couple of starts. But with Jeff Locke on the big team and Kyle McPherson and Phil Irwin both out for the year, the Indy rotation was thin and he was promoted, much more out of need than performance. And he took advantage of the chance with the Tribe.
Cumpton went 6-7 with a 3.32 ERA, and was solid enough that the Bucs called him up to make a couple of starts in June as AJ's replacement and twice more in July for one-and-done outings. Then he joined the team for the September run.
Brandon went 2-1 with a 2.05 ERA (SIERA 3.47, xFIP 3.40) in 30-2/3 IP, leaning heavily on his 91-92 MPH sinker. He's primarily a two seam/slider guy, with a show-me change he tosses about 10% of the time. Cumpton's not a big arm; he averaged 6.46 K per game, which syncs with his minor league line. But he only walked a batter per nine, and his 54% GB rate earned him gold stars from the Bucco staff.
He did toss a three hit, seven inning goose egg against the Reds, but that went against the norm. The first time around the order, he help opponents to a .151 BA; the second time around, it rose to .233 and the third time through the line up resulting in a pretty lusty .421. Add in that his fastball reportedly reached 95 in his handful of relief outings in the minors the past two years, and it all strongly suggests a career in the pen. Of course, it may also show the need for an effective third pitch since his bread-and-butter offerings aren't swing-and-miss stuff.
In the spring, he'll get a look along with Jeanmar Gomez and Stolmy Pimentel as a back-ender/long man. Both of those guys are out of options, and Cumpton has a pair, which almost assures him a spot at Indy after camp breaks.
But he's got his name in the Pirate book now, and his development is on a path similar to Tony Watson, Justin Miller, Vin Mazzaro, Bryan Morris, Jared Hughes, Gomez and company. He'll start at Indy, but his progression looks like it will lead to a spot in the pen. And it could be sooner rather than later; our guess is that the last three spots will be pretty competitive.
Though team control issues work against him, the Bucs aren't going to sit on their hands during the off season, and the bullpen has some shiny bangles to dangle. In the past year, they've dealt Joel Hanrahan, Chris Resop, Vic Black and Duke Welker while allowing Chris Leroux to go to Japan, so Cumpton can look forward to an opening or two in camp if the Pirates stay true to form - and, of course, some new competition.