Padres Prospect Interview: Craig Cooper

SAN ANTONIO, TX.: How good do you have to be to make it to the majors? Craig Cooper was a three time batting champion at Notre Dame, has a career average of .314 and an OBP of .394; and still he doesn't get that much attention.

The problem for Craig is that being locked into the first base/corner OF slot, and despite hitting .282/.354/.407, a .761 OPS does not put you on the fast track to the majors.

That could soon change with the type of season he is putting up in San Antonio.

Cooper, 24, was the Player of the Month in April, hitting .380/.449/.519 leading the team in, hits (27), doubles (5) and slugging percentage. A gifted fielder at first base, Missions manager Terry Kennedy credited him with saving at least six or seven errors in the infield in the first month. He is the rare lefty that bats right-handed and is playing in maybe the toughest park in baseball for someone hitting from that side.

He is leading the Texas League in hits and is in the top three in OBP.

Whenever we have written about you, the general theme has been that you hit for a good average, have a good OBP but there are some concerns if you hit for enough power being a corner guy? This year the power numbers have been up, what is the reason behind this?

Craig Cooper: For me it was getting back to a more aggressive approach earlier in the count. When you get those pitches to hit instead of laying off them because its early, trying to drive them and cause some damage. That makes the pitchers change their philosophy and helps your all around approach.

When we talked to Grady Fuson he claimed that was your biggest challenge, to drive the inside pitch. Is that what you have been doing?

Craig Cooper: A little bit, yeah. Teams have been starting me away and then come in, so I've had a chance to turn on a couple. I'm starting to feel good and its taken me awhile to get the mechanics and confidence down to do it on a regular basis.

This is a great park for a right-handed hitter trying to do that.

Craig Cooper: [laughs] Yeah it is fun, makes it interesting. There have already been a number of balls this series that have hung up there. It kind of makes you a better hitter, forcing you to think line drive and hard ground balls. If you take that same approach on the road then those balls start to carry a little bit more.

We always joke that this park makes PETCO look like Coors Field. Do you run into the same problems the big club does in having to adapt to two different styles of hitting, one for home and the other for the road?

Craig Cooper: A little bit, but you really can't let that get to you. You have to realize that at home that is something you are going to have to deal with. Last year that was getting to me, and that was my learning curve. I started to stay away from the wind in left and started trying to hit it to right-center and that ended up helping me at home and on the road.

You were very successful in college at Notre Dame. You won three batting titles. If you were giving some advice to someone coming from college what would you tell them is the biggest challenge?

Craig Cooper: The mental grind. Having an approach, having a routine is huge. In college, I had a routine, but you play at most three or four times a week. Here it is six or seven days a week. Taking care of your body, knowing what you have to do and not overdoing it.

Your point of not "over-doing" it is interesting. All of you guys are working so hard and you know the odds, so how do you reign yourself in from over-doing it?

Craig Cooper: Its a delicate balance. Before the game, I want to work my butt off, but then again I don't want to take anything away from what I am trying to do in the game. For example, you want to be aggressive taking ground balls, but you don't want to be diving around all over the place and smashing your wrist up.

Last year you were playing in the corner OF spots here and at Lake Elsinore the year before you were splitting time between first and right. This year they have quite a few outfielders but are there any plans to put you in the outfield?

Craig Cooper: I'm ready to play wherever they put me. I love playing the outfield and first base; basically I just love playing defense wherever it is. Outfield is fun, you can throw the ball and try to hose some guys. First base is great because you are in every play.

You played center in college correct?

Craig Cooper: I played a little bit of center, mostly the corners and first base. I also played eight or nine games up here in center and that was great. I grew up playing center until I went to college and they moved me off.

Is your main focus to keep your power numbers up without taking away what you do really well?

Craig Cooper: Yeah, exactly. The main thing is to stay with my strengths and be aggressive early in the count with my pitches. When I get my pitch, I can do some damage. I get in trouble when I start trying to do to much and thinking I haven't hit a home run in a month, and then I'm in a slump for two weeks. Mentally, I believe that I have matured and I know to stick to my game plan and the numbers will take care of themselves.

You have to feel pretty good with what you did the first month.

Craig Cooper: Yeah, but the main thing is to just go out and have fun and not get to caught up in mechanics.

Is it tough to keep a solid mental approach right now? You are doing great right now, but if a couple things don't go your way you have to keep that solid mental approach and routine.

Craig Cooper: Absolutely. I mean I love what is happening right now but at the same time your mental approach is what is going to keep you level. You are going to hit .400 for a month then the next it could be .200, that is just baseball. Hopefully it will average out at the end of the year, but you don't want to be riding the mental roller-coaster.

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