Pittsburgh Pirates Sign Outfielder Todd Cunningham to a Minor League Deal

The Pittsburgh Pirates have signed outfielder Todd Cunningham as a minor league free agent. The 28-year-old split the season between the Los Angeles Dodgers and St Louis Cardinals, spending the entire season in Triple-A, where he hit .284/.404/.414 in 96 games. Those teams both play in the Pacific Coast League, which is a much more hitter-friendly league than the International League, where Indianapolis plays. The switch-hitting Cunningham spent nearly the final month of the season on the disabled list, getting activated for the final three days of the schedule.

Cunningham has seen action in the majors during parts of three season. He made his pro debut with the Atlanta Braves in 2013, going 2-for-8 in eight games. He played 39 more games for the Braves in 2015, hitting .221/.280/.267 in 86 at-bats. He also appeared as a bench player for the Los Angeles Angels in 2016, posting a .438 OPS in 20 games. He has played all three outfield positions in the majors and the minors, with most of his time spent in center field. Cunningham has stolen 124 bases in the minors, four times reaching 19 in a season.

During his minor league career, which started in 2010 after he was drafted in the second round by the Braves, Cunningham has been ranked among the top 30 prospects for his team a total of six times by Baseball America. His highest ranking was 12th overall for the Braves in 2012. Twice he was named the best defensive outfield prospect for the Braves, while he also earned best strike zone discipline and best hitter for average.

He’s obviously never put everything together in the majors, but there are some tools there, which should make him a decent outfield depth option if injuries pop up. That’s keeping in mind that if you need to use your third or fourth best depth option as a starter in the Major League outfield, who that person might be is the least of your worries. Between the defense, speed and ability to play all three spots, plus prior MLB experience, he won’t hurt you if he’s needed for the bench. The Pirates obviously liked him enough to target him very early in the minor league free agent process. Cunningham will be Rule 5 eligible.

** The Pirates released pitcher Brandon Bingel earlier this week. The 22nd round pick in the 2016 draft spent the last two seasons in the Morgantown bullpen, where he had a 3.94 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP, with 31 strikeouts in 45.2 innings.

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John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.

When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.

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Sounds like a switch hitting Jaff Decker.


WOW! 4 Paragraphs/28 lines dedicated to a 28 year old OF being signed to a minor league contract? Has this franchise fallen that far?

At least the Pirates did not trade to get this guy. Is Phil Gosselin a FA this year?

How about a rumor about Shohei Otani – like NH was seen in the airport in Manila boarding a flight to Japan? And a follow-up about the Pirates trading Sean Rodriguez to get more International Pool money. That would set the stage for the upcoming GM Meetings. 3 teams with more than the $3.5 mil he is allowed to receive and the Pirates are one of those teams – spend the money and buy this kid.

Robert J

Otani is going to sign where he can make a lot of money doing endorsements. His baseball contract is not going to be his means of income.


If I were going to move to a new country to start a life, it’d probably be to somewhere where I can find people who speak my language and celebrate my holidays and that I can relate to. He’ll get endorsements wherever he goes, and I’m probably wrong, but I’m still going with dark horse Seattle.

Robert J

Actually, Seattle makes a lot of sense, for the reasons you state.

The endorsements will be there in NYC and LA, as well as the people who speak his language.


Any West Coast City makes a lot more sense than Pittsburgh, but having the International Pool Money puts the Pirates in an interesting negotiating position where they cannot lose. The only way to lose is not to go after him.


I’d still love to see that Charlie Morton – Chad Kuhl comparison fleshed out; hell of a lot more interesting than this news.


Had not paid that close of attention to CM other than to pay him a compliment about finding his way in 2017. Between injuries and lack of success, he was close to being out of MLB on more than one occasion, but he always had electric stuff.


i just found that one Verducci article. i guess the argument is that Kuhl and Morton have identical spin rates on their curveball, but Kuhl just needs to throw his more than 7% of the time to have a Morton-eque renaissance vs lefties?

from the article:
“How to get Morton-ized: Trust the knuckle-curve more
against lefthanders. Embrace the four-seam fastball up in the zone.
De-emphasize the power sinker down.”

side note: whoa, Morton was actually *a lot* better vs lefties than he was vs righties this past season. that’s kinda wild.

Phil W

There might be similarities in their stuff, but big differences in their composure and attitude on the mound. Charlie is so cool and composed. In the 9th inning of the World Series, he looked like he was pitching a spring training game.


i certainly never thought of Kuhl as being especially jumpy or nervous or emotional or anything, but i guess i dont usually look for that kind of thing.

Kuhl was also 24 last season, so i’m sure his level of zen will increase with age.


Of course when he pitched for the Pirates, fans called that “it looks like he doesn’t care.”


Haha, I was just gonna say; talk about comments you never expected to hear.

I fully agree with Phil. Charlie always got a bad wrap from the contingent of amateur internet psychologists.


More likely Charlie learned from adversity and improved his mental approach. Some people are able to do that. Some not.


Some people don’t express their frustration by breaking bats or throwing chairs or taking out rage against water coolers. I was never really sure how people thought they were able to look into their TV to the mind of a player they have never met and know what they are thinking.


Nobody ever really knows someone else. But you can recognize common behavioral characteristics, and their consequences.


Yeah, I wasn’t particularly moved by the argument; no mention of Morton’s cutter usage nor argument for why curveball spin rate, not movement profile or speed differential or any other measure of pitch quality was used for the comparison.

Still though, it caught my attention and *could* be a prescriptive path for what Kuhl needs to actually improve.


yeah i wish verducci wouldve taken it a little further than just spin rate. I mean i get why a high rate is good, because ya know… physics and stuff.

and they seem to have similar speed differentials between their fastballs and curveballs.

But yeah, we need more info. At the very least, it’s *promising* that Kuhl’s spin rate was high, and just didnt feel comfortable throwing it yet. gives us something to dream on.


If only there were a good Pirate-only outlet with time to dig into such a thing! 😉


Not a complaint John, and I hope you were not insulted. I saw it as a record for a write-up about a 28 year old being signed to a minor league contract. Usually something like that is summarized in 2 lines.

With Otani, the Pirates are one of a few teams with the pool money needed to sign him. With the posting the Pirates could pay up to $25 mil and get a player many teams will be willing to pay a great deal more than that to get this type of talent. It’s a one time opportunity.


yearly reminder. every single team signs players like this. you should be glad you subscribe to a site that writes a really nice background on these guys. It’s there if you want to read it, and you can skip it if you don’t.


Yea, I just thought this guy is a depth option if something falls apart.

Mike G

Der Bingel got cut? No doubt he’s on the road to . . . oblivion.

Daniel D

Cutch’s days are numbered now 😉

This is a good pickup though. Always good to have an AAAA type player who is capable of playing CF. Would’ve been nice to have him around last season.


This is true, Cutch’s days are likely numbered. This actually could be a fallback option if Meadows isn’t ready, or someone to throw out there for a couple weeks to get the extra year of control.


Maybe this is meant as a possible replacement for Ortiz


With a name like Bingel, perhaps he should give up pitching and give hitting a shot.

See, the first response to this story is not some sarcastic remark about how the Pirates have all of their off-season priorities taken care of and can start printing 2018 World Series tickets.

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