Name: Craig Cooper
DOB: October 27, 1984
In 190 career minor league games, Cooper has clocked 16 homers. Five of the 10 bombs he hit last season came on the road in Lancaster and Visalia – both cities have ranked a 1.20+ in park home run multipliers over the last three years (averaging 1.2 home runs for every one at an average park).
The problem he has yet to hash out has been turning on the inside fastball and bringing it over the left field fence.
"That is the key that is going to keep him from going to the big leagues," former Padres minor league field coordinator and current MLB scout Bill Bryk said. "If he shows he can hit with a little more pop and hit that inside fastball, then he has a chance because he can play first base and can play outfield. He doesn't have the consistent power right now to play the corners."
"His thing that he needs to work on is pulling the ball a little more," former Lake Elsinore and current Portland hitting coach Max Venable said. "I think that will be easier for him to adapt to than a guy that is pulling the ball too much and trying to adapt to hit the ball the opposite way.
Cooper has an inside-out swing that is more conducive to hitting the ball to the opposite field.
"He (went) to the Instructional League to work on pulling the ball a little more," Lake Elsinore manager Carlos Lezcano said. "He showed it the last month of the season – he hit three homeruns to left field. He has a little bit of an inside-out swing, which is good for the average and hitting the ball to right-center. In batting practice he does that very well and carries it into the game.
"He needs to work on the middle-in, getting that ball to left field and turning the ball around. He is working on that."
He is able to get the sweet part of the bat on the ball by bringing his hands in through the zone and whipping his wrists. He has not, however, been able to master getting full extension and driving the ball into the seats.
It was such a point of consternation that the Padres invited him out to their fall Instructional League to work on pulling the ball with authority.
With his body, Cooper should be able to turn on quite a few pitches. Balls on the inner half of the plate should be knocked out of the park.
He has tremendous strength but has had a tough time adjusting his swing to meet the requirements of his first baseman and corner outfield position. Instead of getting his hands extended and slightly out in front to use the full momentum of his body torque, Cooper works towards contact with his hands.
The Padres have tried several tracts to free up his hands. He is more relaxed at the plate with his hands away from his body and is standing up a little taller than his first professional season. While he still has a crouch that gives him balance, his stance is more upright in order to get the extension on balls on the inside corner.
For all the talk of power, Cooper did connect for 32 doubles. Most of that came from his ability to go the other way and use different parts of the field. He can take the ball into the left-centerfield gaps and uses both left and right field with the same regularity – going with the pitch and handling each ball by where it is placed.
"He definitely has power the opposite way," offered Venable. "It will help – pulling the ball you are apt to have more power. But there are guys who can hit the ball opposite way and have power. If you look at the stats, I am sure most home run hitters pull the ball. With Coop, being his second year of pro ball and like every other young kid coming up, once they learn the strike zone and learn to look for certain pitches the power will definitely come as the years go – maturity."
A patient hitter that looks for his pitch to hit, Cooper generates more loft in his swing on balls headings towards the outside corner. He tends to level his swing out as he comes middle-in.
While the power has been slow to come, there is no doubting his ability to hit – he led Lake Elsinore with a .317 average. He profiles as a .300 hitter at any level and will close in on a .400 on-base percentage because of his firm understanding of the strike zone, or, more importantly, his strike zone.
A consistent approach at the plate ensures he doesn't experience many lows during the season, and Cooper has the ability to get hot, as evidenced by hit .406 average during the month of August that included a hit in 26 of his final 29 games with 13 multi-hit games over his final 24 contests.
The Notre Dame alumnus has a tremendous work ethic and possesses great makeup. He is also quite athletic for his size and is more than a station-to-station runner. While he won't ever be a true threat stealing bags, he could nab a few each year and will hustle to take the extra base.
Cooper is a stalwart defender at first base, showing good agility in moving around the bag and saving runs with his ability to pick balls out of the dirt. He has Gold Glove potential around the first base bag.
"This kid has good hands at first and can play a good outfield," said Lezcano. "He can play good defense, which you need to do to play in the National League. He is going to learn to hit some homeruns once he learns how to deal with that fastball middle-in of the plate."
He is also fluid in right field, running good routes and showing surprising range. He reads balls off the bat well and has a cannon arm but lacks accuracy and the ability to throw the baseball to hit his cutoff man. Most of that comes from a lack of playing time in the outfield as a professional. He played all three spots in college but hasn't gotten many looks with the Padres. His arm could be a tremendous asset in the future out of right field.
"He has an inside-out swing, good makeup a good athlete for a big guy, can learn, and has something to work with," noted Bryk. "If he does make some adjustments on the inner half he has a chance."
ETA: His future is directly connected to his power. With the athleticism to play first and in the outfield, Cooper has to prove he can pull the inside fastball and be more productive in hitting homers. Accomplishing that in Double-A will be a challenge and will define his future.
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