Bunnell prepping for first full season with Braves

Cade Bunnell’s season of firsts remains in limbo after the coronavirus pandemic suspended Major League Baseball spring training in Florida.

The 2015 Stoughton High School graduate was preparing for his first full professional season with the Atlanta Braves before the COVID-19 outbreak led MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred to suspend spring training and the start of the season.

“This has been the longest offseason,” Bunnell said. “This is the longest I have gone without baseball.”

Bunnell was selected by the Braves in the 40th round of last year’s MLB Draft out of Indiana University.

After getting drafted, he was assigned to the Rookie Gulf Coast League in Florida. He hit .141 with one home run, four RBIs and a .385 on-base average, while playing shortstop, second base and third base.

Bunnell was in spring camp with the Braves’ minor leaguers for one week before training was shut down. He is currently living in Stoughton and said he’s grateful to his parents – Rick and Tina Bunnell – for supporting him and having a safe space for workouts.

“That was my introduction to pro ball and when the coronavirus hit,” he said. “I was excited for my first spring training. I was prepared and ready to go for the season.”

Bunnell has converted his parents’ garage into a homemade weight room and hitting area with a tee. When his father returns from work, he will go to the park and work on hitting mechanics, fielding fundamentals and throwing.

Bunnell said the challenge is getting in batting practice against live pitching at a higher velocity because he doesn’t have a pitching machine.

“I will just tell my dad to throw harder,” he said.

When MLB will resume activities and where Bunnell will be assigned within the Braves organization remains a mystery.

“I don’t know where I’m going to go,” he said. “I just have to be ready.”

Initially, minor leaguers were going to be paid through April 7 when MLB suspended spring training on March 12.

Many players were in limbo about whether they would have an income and health insurance during the shutdown. On March 31, MLB announced it would pay minor leaguers a $400 weekly stipend through May 31 to ensure they would have health insurance.

Minor leaguers are not paid during the offseason. The current minor-league minimum salaries range from $290 per week in rookie leagues where the season lasts three months, to $502 per week in Triple-A, where the season lasts five months.

While the shutdown wears on, Bunnell practices like a shortened minor league season will begin at some point. He said playing a regular 140-game minor league season is not likely.

Minor League affiliates depend on revenue from games and concession stands for profits. They do not have lucrative television contracts to help offset the possibility of no revenue if fans are banned from attending games.

As a shortstop in high school, Bunnell led the Vikings to back-to-back Badger South Conference titles and a WIAA state appearance in 2013. He earned first-team all-conference honors as a junior and senior for coach Jeremy Dunnihoo.

Bunnell has persevered through long odds before, having to start over after leaving his first NCAA Division I school.

He played at Kansas State as a freshman, but started to gain interest from pro scouts after a standout sophomore season at Madison College.

Bunnell played for the Northwoods League’s Rockford (IL) Rivets in the summer of 2016 before playing two seasons at Indiana.