TCN 2016 Cardinals Prospect #5: Tim Cooney

The left-hander impressed in his brief St. Louis trial, but an appendectomy knocked him down late. Time to reset in 2016.

The Cardinal Nation/ Player Profile

School: Wake Forest University

2015 rank Pos. DOB Ht. Wt. Bat Thw Signed Round
7 LHS 12,19,90 6-3 195 L L 2012 3rd

Selected 2015 stats

Mem 6 4 2.74 4.17 14 14 0 88.2 61 27 9 16 63 0.195 0.73 0.211
StL 1 0 3.16 3.58 6 6 0 31.1 28 11 3 10 29 0.241 0.88 0.287

Staff comments (individual rankings in parentheses)

Message board community (5): At #5, Tim Cooney is likely making his last appearance in the community prospect vote. He jumped from #33 in his first post-draft year, to #17 in 2014, to #8 in 2015. You have to love a guy that progresses up the chain like that. Back in 2012, DiscDogRob posted that if Jaime Garcia continues to have shoulder problems, then Cooney might be the next left-handed starter on the MLB team, which was a prediction that looks like it will come true - perhaps in 2016.

During the community vote this year, SoonerinNC noted that Cooney is more proven than a prospect like Luke Weaver and showed good improvement as the season went along. Blingboy wrote that Cooney should hang around the majors for quite some time, but will likely serve as the sixth starter should he stay in the Cardinals organization. I voted for Cooney due to him having a flashy 3.16 ERA while pitching in the majors this year in limited time, a key factor in his development and confidence. - Jeremy Byrd

Derek Shore (3): Coming into 2015, Cooney was overshadowed by fellow southpaw starting pitching prospect Marco Gonzales. Looking back at the 2015 season, despite Cooney ranking behind Gonzales in TCN's top 40, the former is in the driver's seat to contribute as the first pitching option for St. Louis in the case of injury. This is based on better durability than the latter and the former’s shoulder issue this past season.

Cooney, 25, split time between Triple-A Memphis and St. Louis last year, primarily with the Triple-A Redbirds. At Memphis, the left-hander amassed a 6-4 record, 2.74 ERA in 14 games (88 2/3 IP) while striking out 63 and limiting the opposition to just 16 walks; simply put, he got better with each start. Against the best hitters in the world, Cooney performed equally as well other than one clunker that skewed his results. Though it should be mentioned his MLB debut was against his childhood team (Philadelphia Phillies); a game in which emotions were obviously running high.

Unfortunately, Cooney missed the final weeks of the season due to an appendectomy, but fortunately it is not viewed as a long-term issue.

In an exclusive interview available to TCN subscribers near the end of October, Memphis manager Mike Shildt discussed Cooney's season.

"Really pleased for Tim,” Shildt said. “He was able to get an opportunity this year to break into the big leagues. Obviously a talented guy and was able to take the experience that he learned from every outing. The league will correct you, tell you where you stand, what you need to work on, and the players will pay attention to that.

"He's a guy that bedazzled (the Pacific Coast League) in being to able to stay and compete. As Gary LaRocque (Director of Player Development) would say, ‘He can play above or above the level.’ In Tim's case, he was able to take advantage of the opportunity given to him.

"He continued to improve and get better. He was able to recognize what he needed to continue to work on in being able to execute more consistently. Even when he came back down into Memphis, he was focused on working on things, but it was unfortunate the appendectomy took place the end of the year that suddenly ended his season. I felt really good about what he was able to do and how he was able to do it."

Known for pitchability and an ability to make adjustments on the fly, Cooney utilized that ability and finished Double-A Springfield in his first full season in 2014 before making his MLB debut the following year. He locates a solid 89-92 mph fastball with sink and late life to both sides of the plate. He is the classic version of a left-hander who pitches inside with purpose and uses a high-quality changeup to generate swings and misses.

Cooney also mixes in a low-80s slider, hard cutter, and mid-70s curveball to give him five effective pitches that will help him turn over lineups three times or more in order to go deep into games. However, a command-oriented approach will be vital for him to succeed without pure gas. He is a proven performer with repeatable mechanics and profiles as a very dependable back-end starter. Though he is not very deceptive and can fall into a tendency to allow a high-rate of fly balls and projects to see a tick downwards in his strikeouts at the major-league level.

The parent-club rotation looks set with the addition of Mike Leake to cover the absence of Lance Lynn due to Tommy John surgery and John Lackey, who inked a deal with the Chicago Cubs. Cooney will pitch atop Memphis's rotation in 2016 and move into a swingman/spot-starter type role when needed by St. Louis.

Brian Walton (5): In a way, Cooney’s 2015 reminded me of a more advanced pitching version of a fellow Cardinals third-rounder, outfielder Harrison Bader. He does everything good, nothing great and nothing bad. With impeccable control as his calling card and limited roster opportunity, Cooney may not become an impact player with St. Louis, at least in 2016.

Despite his solid results, it seems like Cooney is pitching closer to the edge that his numbers might first indicate. He does not have overpowering stuff, high octane velocity, nor does he log high strikeout totals - and he has a tendency for fly balls on top of it. Some of his Triple-A numbers look too good to be true, as his BABIP was unbelievably low at .211 and his FIP was almost a run and a half higher than his ERA.

Yet when asked to step into St. Louis’ rotation, Cooney delivered. Granted it was only six starts, but compared to Memphis, his strikeouts were up, his BABIP was close to normal, his FIP and ERA lined up far better and he even allowed a few less fly balls.

Perhaps more than any other pitcher, Cooney missed out on a tailor-made opportunity to make his case to firm up a spot on the Major League roster when the Cardinals rotation suffered injuries during the final month. Obviously, he could not do anything about a case of appendicitis, but the timing was extremely unfortunate.

His competition now has also had a winter to rest up, whether the direct competitors (Marco Gonzales and Tyler Lyons) or the established rotation members (Carlos Martinez and Michael Wacha). Further, Lyons now being out of minor league options strengthens his chance of claiming a 25-man roster spot as a lefty and/or long man in the bullpen that Cooney could have competed for this spring.

It seems to me that Cooney will most likely step into the role that Lyons is vacating – veteran left-handed leader of the Memphis rotation – and will have to wait for another chance to make an impact in St. Louis.

Cooney has proven he is capable, but is still going to need help. If an opening comes, will Lyons get another chance to start or will he have become established as a reliever by then? Will Gonzales come back strong in 2016 or will his shoulder problems linger? Is former Mets starter Jeremy Hefner healthy?

Hopefully, it will not take Cooney as long to get MLB traction as it has for Lyons. The latter has made 61 starts for the Triple-A Redbirds over the last four seasons and was called up five times and sent down four times last season alone. It may take some perseverance on the part of Cooney, but his 2015 introductory success should provide sufficient motivation.

Our 2016 top 40 series continues: To see the entire list of top Cardinals prospects and remaining article schedule, click here. This includes the top 40 countdown and nine in-depth, follow-up articles. Most of the latter are exclusively for members of The Cardinal Nation.

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