The Cincinnati Bearcats will embark on their most important and most difficult series of the season this weekend. That is no hyperbole as they will take on the East Carolina Pirates, who are in first place in the American Athletic Conference and ranked 10th in the country according to D1Baseball.com. Their biggest strength is their pitching, which means the Bearcats will need every hitter in their lineup at the top of their games. One batter who already seems locked into that trajectory is right fielder A.J. Bumpass.
After struggling a bit over the first few months of the season, Bumpass has really taken off of late. He batted roughly .273 in the month of April with six multi-hit games. He had three total in February and March. This recent improvement may not seem like a giant leap forward, but considering Bumpass carried a sub .200 batting average into mid-March, the fact that he has lifted his season mark to .259 is notable.
His average hasn’t just increased because of a few more seeing-eye singles than usual. He is getting the barrel on the ball more frequently, with 10 of his team-high 20 extra-base hits coming in the last month. In a torrid performance last weekend in leading the Bearcats to a critical sweep of the Wichita State Shockers, Bumpass logged five hits in 11 at-bats, including a home run, while driving in five runs and scoring four of his own. It is offensive bursts like that which have helped him add to his team-leading totals in doubles (12), triples (four), total bases (73) and OPS (.801). Even though he has been better of late, the fact that he leads in so many categories shows that even when he was struggling, he was still making a tremendous impact on the field.
Bumpass is no stranger to being a offensive pillar for the Bearcats. In 2017 he slashed .287/.384/.491 with 26 extra-base hits. Unfortunately, he took a step back last season and appeared to be regressing even further at the very beginning of 2019. Any fears that such a trend would continue have dissipated, especially since Bumpass is only six extra-base hits from matching his career-high while with two more runs scored he will set a personal best in that category.
While his bat has heated up, Bumpass is still striking out too much, with 39 total this season, including 18 in the last month. That strikeout total compares to only 18 walks. The lack of patience is a bit surprising because Bumpass has always shown a pretty solid eye at the plate. His on-base percentage was still at an impressive .371 level last year but it has dipped to .339 this season. Should it hold there, it would mark his lowest output since his freshman campaign.
As the Bearcats set out on a massively important series this weekend, they will look to Bumpass to be one of the leaders of the offensive charge. He won’t be able to defeat the Pirates all by himself even if he reverses his strikeout tendency, but he can really give the team a boost if he keeps hitting like he did in April.