It was in the outfield where the bulk of the star power for the Cincinnati Bearcats resided in 2017. During a season in which the program once again failed to make any meaningful impact in the postseason, the Bearcats were lucky to employ one of the better outfield duos in the American Athletic Conference.
For much of the season, the offense was carried by right fielder A.J. Bumpass, who did more than just improve in his sophomore season, he grew into a star for the team. After a less than stellar introduction to the NCAA ranks, Bumpass really surprised. He hit just .172/.258/.310 in 26 games as a freshman. Those numbers boosted to All Star quality in 2017, when he put up a line of .287/.384/.491, mashing 26 extra-base hits, including seven home runs and 40 RBI. He also scored 31 runs and even stole five bases. It wasn’t just in the batter’s box that he succeeded either. He managed to improve his fielding percentage from .977 to .982 and record three assists, although improving his counting numbers was bound to happen since he played in 31 more games. Bumpass’ work on the field was so strong he ended up being drafted. That is one way to break down the notion of a sophomore slump.
Bumpass hit a bit of a snag down the stretch, which kept him from being the most potent bat in the outfield, or the lineup as a whole. However, I’m not sure he would have been able to keep up with R.J. Thompson even if he hadn’t slowed some. Thompson slashed an incredible .350/.426/.493 in his senior season and even though he did not get any draft love, his 23 extra-base hits and 110 total bases made him a nightmare for opposing pitchers. With 21 multi-hit games, Thompson eventually became the best leadoff option the Bearcats had, while playing well enough on defense (.984 fielding percentage).
After Bumpass and Thompson, the Bearcats didn’t have a lot of success with outfielders. Jace Mercer, who we discussed in our examination of middle infielders, got some time out there, and slashed a respectable .273/.345/.358, but going forward he is more likely to wind up in the infield. As for Vince Augustine and Jordan Ramey, the two youngsters didn’t get much time to play and didn’t produce much when they did, combining for two hits in 26 at bats.
The real outlier here, though, was Treg Haberkorn, who was the most steady presence in the outfield alongside Bumpass and Thompson. A junior, Haberkorn slashed .264/.367/.396 in 2016 and was able to steal 14 bases while legging out 14 extra-base hits. His production dropped significantly in 2017, when he batted below .200, stole only four bags and managed nine extra-base knocks. In addition, he walked only nine times after accumulating 20 free passes in 2016.
With Thompson gone and Bumpass possibly heading to the pros, the outfield will be a place that will need work in 2018. Haberkorn has shown the ability to be a serviceable contributor, so there is at least a foundation and if Bumpass comes back then that foundation will be even better.