Name: Craig Cooper
DOB: October 27, 1984
It isn't a knock against the native New Yorker – heck, we know enough not to make New Yorkers mad. But, Cooper has a sizeable crouch and finds incredible power exploding out of that stance.
A seventh-round pick out of Notre Dame – where he earned Male Athlete of the Year – Cooper was shipped out to the Northwest League where he starred for the Eugene Emeralds.
The Big East's all-time hits leader didn't stop his assault when he got to professional ball.
He went on to place third in the league in batting with a .320 average, placed fifth in RBIs with 46 and on base percentage (.418), tied for third in doubles (18), and placed in the top-ten in runs scored and extra base hits.
"He has a very good idea of how to hit," 2006 Eugene manager Doug Dascenzo said. "He is a very good hitter and will get better with more games played."
Cooper, who had a 21-game hitting streak his senior year at Notre Dame, managed to reach base in 17 straight games with the Emeralds, a streak that began on opening day.
At 220-pounds, Cooper has the muscle to hit balls hard to every part of the field. His stance gives him an uppercut swing and he is adept at taking the ball the other way – perhaps too well. He hit more balls to right field than anywhere else and Cooper's natural strength suggests that he has more pull power than he showed in his first season.
"He came in driving the ball well to the opposite field and we worked with him on pulling the ball a little more with authority and he did a good job with it," former Eugene hitting coach Matt Howe said. "He hits the ball well to all fields. He had a great, solid first season."
The results are tough to dismiss, however. He hit for a high average and 33.8 percent of his hits went for extra bases.
Having a loop in his swing also put his bat head on top of many balls, sending ground balls to second base and shortstop. When he centered the ball, it was liners into the gaps that paved the way for him to knock in so many runs.
Cooper has a great batting eye and came into pro ball as one of the toughest players to strikeout in the nation. In 60 games, the first baseman whiffed 44 times while drawing 32 walks.
He works the count well and maintains his balance throughout his swing, holding his weight on his back foot before pouncing on the ball.
"I am just trying to get a good pitch to hit and get in a good hitter's count," Cooper said of his mentality going into each at bat.
By sitting back on the pitch, he is able to recognize the spin of the ball and the lean he has on his back leg adds to the lift in his swing plane.
His quick hands allow him to pull the ball – but his approach oftentimes led to an opposite-field shot.
He gets excellent extension through the ball but his swing does have length to it and because he wants to wait for the ball to commit it hurts his inner-half plate coverage.
The problem stems from his low center of gravity in the crouch and the Padres are trying to get him to stand taller in the box this season. His hands simply couldn't get wrap around quick enough to pull the ball.
A converted outfielder, Cooper bats right-handed and throws left – a bit unusual. It is, in fact, a detriment in his quest to become a power hitting first baseman.
While his extra base hit percentage was adequate in year one it will have to improve as he moves up the ranks. Six homers in 60 games simply aren't enough to wow the brass. He will have to work on pulling the ball more consistently and using his strength to send mistakes into the next hemisphere.
A gifted athlete – he hit leadoff for Notre Dame his senior year – Cooper has the agility to swipe a few bags because of his baseball acumen and understanding of pitchers.
His agility also translates around the first base bag. He can move his feet well and has shown soft hands. Cooper does have some troubles scooping balls out of the dirt but has more range than the average cornerman – he could be a candidate to play in the outfield to add versatility.
"Craig was an outstanding defensive player," Dascenzo marveled.
"We plan to keep him at first base, but, certainly, he could go out and move the outfield and have no problem with it," Padres' scouting director Bill "Chief" Gayton said. "He's very athletic with a good arm and he's played outfield before."
ETA: The road is long and arduous for a first baseman in any system. Cooper will begin the year in Fort Wayne where he saw some success late in the year. The path ahead of him is blocked by two solid prospects and he will have to show he has the mettle and brawn to supplant them both in his quest to reach the show. His status is enhanced by his ability to play left field and it could be a spot he winds up playing in the future.