Former JSU, J'ville star Cunningham keeping elite company among Braves
by Al Muskewitz
Jan 27, 2013 | 5307 views |  0 comments | 8 8 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Former Jacksonville and Jacksonville State star Todd Cunningham, shown here during his time with the Gamecocks. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star/File)
Former Jacksonville and Jacksonville State star Todd Cunningham, shown here during his time with the Gamecocks. (Photo by Stephen Gross/The Anniston Star/File)
JACKSONVILLE – Being the top prospect in the Atlanta Braves system certainly has its privileges.

A day before lending a hand with Rudy Abbott’s youth clinic at Jacksonville State Sunday, Jacksonville’s Todd Cunningham was sitting in some pretty high cotton. He was sharing the head table with several team luminaries at a Braves 400 Fan Club banquet honoring retired third baseman Chipper Jones.

Cunningham, the Braves’ 2012 minor-league prospect of the year, was on the dais with the guest of honor, Braves general manager Frank Wren and several other award recipients.

“I didn’t know a whole lot about the event, I just know they asked me to come,” Cunningham said after signing autographs for more than 200 youth players attending the clinic. “Me, mom and dad drove over there and … all of a sudden this head table, everyone is sharing it with Chipper.

“That’s a pretty cool thing to be involved in just because you’re talking about players of that caliber, he is that caliber above everyone else. It’s a Hall of Fame experience we got to share.”

Cunningham enjoyed his best year as a pro last season with AA Mississippi. He hit .309 with three home runs, 51 RBIs and 24 stolen bases in 120 games.

During the offseason he spent some time in winter ball in Mexico. He started the season with Hermosillo, but as the youngest of six Americans on the roster, was deactivated for 10 days to make room for major-leaguer Jorge Cantu, then was reactivated after another player got hurt for the final stretch of the season.

He called it “a cool experience.” The only time he didn’t feel safe in country was the time someone sprayed the team bus some sort of a pellet gun while it was headed to a field.

“It sounded like someone threw rocks at the bus, but (the holes) were all like the same height,” Cunningham said. “Unless they got really good aim.”

The biggest thing being a top prospect got Cunningham, of course, was an invitation to spring training with the big-league club for the second year in a row. He leaves Feb. 13.

ON THE EDGE: Some players just starting their pro careers might be upset by getting their release. Not Andrew Edge.

The former JSU catcher said being released by the Dodgers recently might have been the best thing for his career.

Edge, a 24th-round pick in 2010, spent last season with the Class A Great Lake Loons, but was in the mix with two other catchers and played in only seven games, hitting .421 in 23 at-bats. He also played 16 games with the Arizona Rookie League Dodgers (.208) to get some playing time.

“I talked to them and they said it’s not that you can’t play,” Edge said. “This gives you a chance to continue your career and work toward your career goals.

“It was probably more positive than anything. I can get to a team and get pushed up rather than staying behind.”

Edge has been offered spots by independent league teams in New York and California and hasn’t ruled out hooking on with another big-league organization.

GETTING READY: Former Oxford and Samford slugger Saxon Butler is looking forward to seeing what his first full season in the minor leagues will bring.

A 33rd-round pick this past June, Butler hit .296 with 10 homers and 36 RBIs for the Yankees’ New York-Penn League affiliate on Staten Island, then finished the season at Sally League Charleston, S.C., where he hit .235 with three homers and nine RBIs and hopes to start this season.

“It’ll be different from the half-season I played,” he said. “I feel like I’m in better shape now after going through an off-season program and hitting the weight room hard and eating right. I’m looking forward to getting out there and seeing how my body reacts being in a lot better shape and see what kind of numbers I can put up.”

Butler said his first year in pro ball was all he expected.

“It’s really, really tiring,” he said. “People say it’s a grind; it really is. You can finish a game up in one city at 11 o’clock at night and have to travel 10 hours and get there at 9 o’clock the next morning and play that night. You’re sleeping on a bus and having to play the next day, but it’s a blast. I’m having the time of my life.”

Sports Writer Al Muskewitz: 256-235-3577. On Twitter @almusky_star.

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