Gonzalez and Cooper to Hawaii Winter League

St. Louis Cardinals minor league relievers Marco Gonzalez and Michael Cooper have been selected to pitch in the 2007 Hawaii Winter Baseball League.

The St. Louis Cardinals have assigned two players from the Single-A ranks to the 2007 Hawaii Winter Baseball League. Relievers Marco Gonzalez and Michael Cooper will be pitching for the West Oahu CaneFires.

This past summer, the former pitched for the Midwest League's Swing of the Quad Cities while the latter played in the Florida State League with the Palm Beach Cardinals and the Springfield Cardinals of the Texas League.

Looking at the recent history of each player makes their selection by the organization to continue pitching this fall understandable.

Gonzalez, 23, joined the Cardinals organization in July, 2006 as an undrafted free agent out of Oral Roberts University. He pitched for rookie level Johnson City and short season Class-A State College in 2006, going 3-0 with a 2.63 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 24 innings.

This season, Gonzalez opened the year with Batavia, posting a 2.70 ERA over four relief appearances before joining the Swing in late June. He then missed most of the month of August after having cut a nerve on his non-throwing hand.

Overall with Quad Cities, he posted a 1.25 ERA in 21 2/3 innings. Gonzalez fanned 12 but walked eight while holding Midwest League hitters to a .162 average.

Cooper, the Cardinals 17th round selection in the 2005 draft from Fresno State, also meets the profile of a player who could benefit from additional baseball action. He suffered a shoulder injury late in his initial professional season and missed the entire 2006 campaign as well.

In 2007, the 23-year-old began and finished in Palm Beach, but also spent two months in Springfield, where he struggled. Between the two stops, Cooper posted a 6.17 ERA in 65 2/3 innings. He struck out 44 but walked far too many, 40. Opposing hitters hit .314 against the right-hander.

In addition to the two players, there is another St. Louis connection on the 2007 CaneFires. Former Cardinals infielder Scott Coolbaugh will be their hitting coach after spending the 2007 season in the same role for the Frisco RoughRiders (Rangers) of the Double-A Texas League.

HWB League rosters typically consist of a combination of Single and Double-A prospects from Major League organizations plus the professional leagues of Japan and Korea. The inclusion of players from Japan Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization make the league truly international in nature. As a side point, the concurrently-running Arizona Fall League is typically aimed at players expected to compete at the Triple-A level.

This season, 24 of the 30 Major League teams will contribute players, up three from last season. Only seven of the 12 teams from Japan will send players, down three from a year ago and the Koreans are not participating.

Competition begins in the four-team HWB League on Saturday, September 29 and continues through the championship game on Monday, November 19. Each team plays a total of 40 regular-season games.

The HWB League began in 1993, stocked with prospects from the USA, Japanese and Korean ranks. Future stars Todd Helton, Ichiro Suzuki and Jason Giambi were among the players in the league during those years along with Cardinals second baseman Adam Kennedy and outfielders Preston Wilson and So Taguchi.

After the 1997 season, the league went into hiatus for nine years, only to return in 2006. Last fall, the Cardinals chose not to participate, but obviously changed their stance this year.

Once the 2007 season begins, live gameday streaming will be available over the internet. For more details, check out the league's website at www.hawaiiwinterbaseball.com.

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

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