Braves pick Cunningham in second round
Jacksonville State outfielder will play third base
Todd Cunningham was going to let the selection be a surprise for his mother. Sure, the star center fielder at Jacksonville State essentially knew that the Braves would be selecting him at slot No. 53 in the second round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. But mom didn't.
"The only hint I gave her was that she would enjoy the pick and everyone would be happy," he said.
Little did Cunningham know, but he was in for a surprise of his own.
As the Braves' pick approached, the Draft commentators were still focusing on the Nationals' selections, one of which was two spots ahead of the Braves. The Pirates, meanwhile, had their own selection at No. 52, sandwiched in between the two National League East rivals.
Unbeknownst to Cunningham and his mother, while the analysts were speaking about the Nationals, the Pirates made a selection of their own. Yet when MLB tuned back in to the current picks, the Cunninghams' thought the Pirates were still on the clock.
"We heard Todd Cunningham from Jacksonville State and my immediate reaction was, 'What? I'm going with the Pirates? This is not supposed to happen,'" he said.
Cunningham's mother turned to her son "and was like, 'Todd you lied to me. I'm not very happy about this.'" Naturally, she wanted her boy to stay close to their home state of Alabama.
Still, moments later, a light-hearted atmosphere returned. Cunningham realized the situation and explained that he was actually a Braves' draftee instead. If things went accordingly to plan, someday he'd be playing in Atlanta.
"She was definitely happy after that," Cunningham said while laughing.
So was Cunningham. While growing up in Jacksonville, Ala., he was always a Braves fan -- his family wouldn't have it any other way. His grandparents watched the team every Sunday, and whenever Cunningham would venture over to his relatives' place, his grandmother would turn on the television and begin yelling at the set. They're diehard -- mind you.
"I grew up in the atmosphere and with a passion for the Braves," he said. "It's kind of a local team. It just worked out. It's probably a best-case scenario.
As a youngster, Cunningham would watch the Braves on his own, as well. Television broadcasts use a camera view from behind the mound, and Cunningham decided to make use of it. At times, he'd get into his batting stance and try timing his pitches to decide if he would swing or not. Afterward -- and during other free time -- Cunningham would head into the backyard with his dad and take swings in a batting cage his father had set up.
The work paid off. Cunningham enrolled at nearby Jacksonville State for college and immediately began starring on the school's baseball team. During his freshman season, he hit .340, during his sophomore year, .339, and .359 this year. And that's not even counting summer ball, where last year, he led the prestigious Cape Cod League in batting. He hit .378, was named to the All-Star team and won the Thurman Munson Batting Title for the Cape. Past winners include Pete Rose and Paul O'Neill -- pretty prestigious company.
"Not bad. Not a bad summer at all," Cunningham said.
Now with his junior season complete, Cunningham will head into the Braves' organization -- albeit at a different position from his collegiate center fielder spot. However, he doesn't seem opposed to the move.
"Naturally, the longer you can stay in the middle of the diamond, the better -- unless you're a huge power guy, which I'm not," he said. "I understand what kind of hitter and player I am. I guess the Braves' organization thought a little differently. I got drafted as a third baseman. We'll see how all this plays into it. I'm excited to learn a new position, and obviously, they feel like I can handle it, so that's encouraging.
"[My strength is] my mental toughness. I understand what kind of player I am and what player I'm not. I'm not a toolsy player. I don't have the major pop. I don't have a cannon from the outfield. I don't run a 6.3 60-yard dash. My whole deal is putting things together -- dealing with struggles, dealing with success and being able to handle myself. Consistency is the key. I'm excited and ready to tackle it."
Chris Hempson is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.