A.J. Bumpass was used to winning awards in high school. A four-year all-conference selection and one-time player of the year for Northern High School in Durham, North Carolina, Bumpass came to the Cincinnati Bearcats as an outfielder who could field and rake.
As a freshman, Bumpass got a chance to show those skills off, but didn’t really get comfortable. He slashed .172/.258/.310 with six extra-base hits and 10 runs scored across 87 at-bats and 26 games (22 starts). He had only three multi-hit games, but perhaps we should have known that when he went 2-for-5 in the final game of the season (a 7-6 extra-inning loss to UCF) that he was going to build his way to a breakout sophomore campaign.
After all, Bumpass at least flashed game changing ability, especially as a fielder and on the base paths. His .977 fielding percentage wasn’t ideal, but that was more due to small sample size, as he had just one error. In addition, he snagged six bags in eight attempts. That’s an impressive number to reach considering his meager on-base success and his lack of playing time.
There was still question as to whether or not Bumpass would even be the primary right fielder entering 2017. Vince Augustine got more playing time in 2016 (42 games) while having equally poor performance with the stick (.177/.209/.274) and doing worse than Bumpass with the glove (three errors, .948 fielding percentage).
Ty Neal decided to go with Bumpass to start the season and there’s no second guessing to be had here. Bumpass is one of two players on the team to be batting over .300, as his slash line (.311/.407/.530) is the thing dreams are made of. He hasn’t been as dangerous a stolen base threat as he may have seemed, as he has only five steals in nearly twice as many games as a year ago, but that doesn’t matter considering his extra-base power. He has slapped 13 doubles, four triples and five home runs, leading the team in the first two categories. He has also driven in 31 batters, scored 24 runs and tallied 87 bases. While he is still prone to a strikeout here or there (36), he is walking at a better rate than he did as a freshman, showing a developing eye, which has obviously helped his ability to not only get on base, but wait for pitches that he can get the barrel on.
In a year in which supposed staff ace Andrew Zellner is struggling and star third baseman Connor McVey started slow, Bumpass has been a consistent and lethal threat at the No. 2 spot in the order. Even if UC’s star isn’t rising at a precipitous rate (22-22, 6-9 American Athletic Conference), Bumpass’ certainly is. That is more than enough reason to keep an eye on the Bearcats as the season rolls along.