Image courtesy of SI.com

What does the future hold for David Cooper?


First base has been a hot topic of discussion among Jays fans this offseason. With big names like Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols topping the free agent pool and rumors about Joey Votto stealing the trade route spotlight, there certainly isn’t a shortage of candidates that the Jays could consider this winter.

The problem is, though, that the Jays already have a first baseman under contract for the next two seasons in Adam Lind, whose struggles are starting to test the patience of the Jays’ fan base. With all of the big offseason names to choose from, there’s another first baseman in the organization who, despite having a great year, is often overlooked and whose status is somewhat up in the air.

That would be David Cooper, and what exactly is going to happen to him going forward?

After suffering through a lackluster first half of the season with Double-A New Hampshire in 2010 — his second consecutive season at the level — Cooper managed to salvage his season by having a strong second half. He had a .317 average and .927 OPS in July and .286 average and .849 OPS in August, but also finished the season on an 11-game hitting streak where he went 15-for-40 (.375). He managed to cut down his strikeouts and double his home run totals from his first stint as a member of the Fisher Cats, but the fact he repeated the level and still hadn’t cracked a Triple-A roster diminished his stock.

Image courtesy of Sportsnet

But that Triple-A opportunity finally came this season, and the 17th overall pick of the 2008 draft was under an immense amount of pressure to not only live up to being a first-round pick, but also to rebound from his two  seasons at Double-A.

Not only did Cooper respond with a breakout performance as a member of the Las Vegas 51s this season, but he was one of the top players across the entire Triple-A level.

His .364 average in 467 at-bats was not only the best among 51s starters, but it actually earned him the Pacific Coast League’s batting title because it was the highest batting average in the league. Despite hitting only nine home runs, Cooper’s .535 slugging percentage ranked 15th in the league, with everybody ahead of him having more homers. That’s because he managed to clobber a league-leading 51 doubles, which made him only the fifth player in Pacific Coast League’s Triple-A era (since 1958) to have 50 or more doubles in a single season.

Plus, Cooper drastically improved his plate discipline, which is something important to Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos. Thanks to his high average and a career-high 67 walks, Cooper also managed to lead the PCL with a .439 on-base percentage. He struck out over 30 less times than he did in 2010, and his 43 strikeouts were actually less than his first minor league season in 2008 — but in almost 200 more at-bats.

It doesn’t even stop there.

Whether it’s his .366 average and 1.024 OPS with runners in scoring position or a .290 average when he was behind in the count, Cooper excelled in almost every single split you can think of. His .354/.435/.523 slash line against right-handed pitchers was nice to see, but how about his .392/.448/.568 line against southpaws? That’s right, Cooper, a left-handed hitter, actually hit better against lefties than he did against right-handers this season. Unsurprisingly, Cooper captured the Mayor’s Trophy as well for being voted as the 51s’ Most Valuable Player by the fans.

His hot start to the year earned him a call-up to the Jays at the end of April, where he managed a .121 average and .486 OPS in a mere 41 plate appearances before being sent back down shortly after his final game on May 15. However when the rosters expanded in September, Cooper returned to the Jays and had very different results after destroying Pacific Coast League pitching for the previous three-and-a-half months. In 40 plate appearances this time around — nearly identical to his first stint with the Jays in May — Cooper went 11-for-38 (.289) with a .851 OPS, including six doubles, one home run, and seven RBIs.

Should the Jays look to include Cooper in a trade this winter to acquire, say, a starting pitcher, the fact that the 24-year-old had a monstrous Triple-A season and earned Major League playing time are points in his favor. A trade involving Cooper would likely only take place if the Jays were content with Lind being their starting first baseman next season, but there’s an outside chance that Cooper could be used in a trade for a brand new Major League first baseman.

With Lind’s well-documented struggles over the last two years, that’s not necessarily out of the question.

After a rough May and June during his 2010 campaign, Lind improved somewhat after the All-Star break and finished the year with 32 doubles and 23 home runs. His frustration with being relegated to DH duties, though, contributed to the fact that he managed more strikeouts (144) than hits (135), and had an atrocious .117/.159/.182 slash line in 145 plate appearances against left-handed pitching; an area the Jays already had enough problems in.

Then Lind was anointed the Jays’ starting first baseman over the offseason, and the return to playing a position on the field was supposed to work wonders for him mentally at the plate. I remember seeing him hit massive BP home runs in spring training and look different, and his .999 spring OPS seemed to reaffirm that he was primed for a season more like his Silver-Slugger-winning 2008 campaign. Lind started off the season hot before missing a month due to a lower back injury in May, but returned to have an explosive month of June, where he hit .311 with nine home runs, 22 RBIs, and a 1.029 OPS.

Once the calendar changed to July, though, Lind’s season went completely downhill. Over the final three months of the 2011 season, he went just 57-for-281 (.203) at the plate, with eight doubles, 10 home runs, and a — wait for it — .580 OPS.

Although he managed to improve his numbers against left-handed pitching, Lind’s inconsistency and streaky hitting for the second consecutive season has hopefully become an issue for the Jays’ front office to address. Not only has Lind finished with a sub-.300 on-base percentage for two straight years, he hit considerably less doubles this season and his already average numbers at Rogers Centre worsened.

That leaves the door open for the Jays to acquire another first baseman during the offseason, with Edwin Encarnacion likely returning as the Jays’ full-time DH. Lind, however, is under contract for $5 million for the next two seasons with club options for the 2014-2016 seasons, so it appears as though he’ll be returning for another year of duty for the Jays.

That leaves Cooper somewhat out of the mix, as he’s clearly shown he has nothing left to prove at the Triple-A level. But with Mike McDade having likely earned his own ticket to Triple-A Las Vegas, things could get crowded there, too.

So, it begs the question:

What do you think will happen to David Cooper going forward?

View Results

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-JM

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Tags: Adam Lind David Cooper First Base Las Vegas 51s (AAA) Toronto Blue Jays

  • dbenson1399

    David Cooper’s stock won’t get any higher without giving him a shot at the Majors. If the Jays don’t plan to let him compete with Lind for everyday playing time at first base, to me, it would not make sense to hold on to him and leave him in AAA. So, the Jays need to decide whether Lind had a bad second half because of lingering injury issues that they do not believe to be chronic, because if he has back issues again next season, his stock could be lower than it is right now. I think the Jays need to trade one or the other to maximize their returns. The only question is to take a chance on a prospect or take a chance on an vet with a possible wonky back. I suspect the Jays management have a better idea on Lind’s condition than we do, so we’ll have to trust to their judgement. All that said, I would not mind giving the rookie a shot, 2012 will likely be another year of seeing what the kids can bring to the table, though hopefully while still competing for a wild card berth. One question though … how is his defence? He did not blow me away with what I saw in his limited play in Sept. and a reliable glove with a young pitching staff will be important.

  • dbenson1399

    David Cooper’s stock won’t get any higher without giving him a shot at the Majors. If the Jays don’t plan to let him compete with Lind for everyday playing time at first base, to me, it would not make sense to hold on to him and leave him in AAA. So, the Jays need to decide whether Lind had a bad second half because of lingering injury issues that they do not believe to be chronic, because if he has back issues again next season, his stock could be lower than it is right now. I think the Jays need to trade one or the other to maximize their returns. The only question is to take a chance on a prospect or take a chance on an vet with a possible wonky back. I suspect the Jays management have a better idea on Lind’s condition than we do, so we’ll have to trust to their judgement. All that said, I would not mind giving the rookie a shot, 2012 will likely be another year of seeing what the kids can bring to the table, though hopefully while still competing for a wild card berth. One question though … how is his defence? He did not blow me away with what I saw in his limited play in Sept. and a reliable glove with a young pitching staff will be important.

  • nearlydenzil

    Cooper could benefit from more minor league experience to work on developing more power. That said, you don’t want to change his approach too much, as he’s a borderline-useful bat now, which we wouldn’t have expected 12 months ago, let alone 2 years ago.

    He could be a trade piece, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets another year at AAA.

  • nearlydenzil

    Cooper could benefit from more minor league experience to work on developing more power. That said, you don’t want to change his approach too much, as he’s a borderline-useful bat now, which we wouldn’t have expected 12 months ago, let alone 2 years ago.

    He could be a trade piece, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets another year at AAA.

  • RonB.Rown

    Is it just me or is Cooper receiving much less attention for a player of his stats than one would expect? I know that he’s in a very hitter friendly league, but he was the best contact hitter in the league this past year! Why does his name rarely if ever seem to come up when talking about the great rising stars of Toronto?

  • RonB.Rown

    Is it just me or is Cooper receiving much less attention for a player of his stats than one would expect? I know that he’s in a very hitter friendly league, but he was the best contact hitter in the league this past year! Why does his name rarely if ever seem to come up when talking about the great rising stars of Toronto?

  • Jared_Macdonald

    @dbenson1399 I forgot to include it in the story, but Cooper has made significant strides in his defense. It is, by no means, Gold Glove caliber, but he has done his best to ditch the “all-bat, no other tools” classification that he received shortly after being drafted.

    For what it’s worth, Cooper, in 106 games, tied a career-low with six errors, which was first set in his inaugural minor league campaign in only 58 games.

  • Jared_Macdonald

    @dbenson1399 I forgot to include it in the story, but Cooper has made significant strides in his defense. It is, by no means, Gold Glove caliber, but he has done his best to ditch the “all-bat, no other tools” classification that he received shortly after being drafted.

    For what it’s worth, Cooper, in 106 games, tied a career-low with six errors, which was first set in his inaugural minor league campaign in only 58 games.

  • Jared_Macdonald

    While I do agree with dbenson1399 that Cooper’s trade value could be at it’s max this offseason, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to keep him and have him start at Triple-A like you said.

    Doing so would give the Jays a few months to see what version of Adam Lind comes to the table…err…plate, and if Cooper continues to rake in Vegas and develop a power stroke, the Jays could give him a chance to prove himself at the big league level. An interesting loophole would be if Lind gets injured again next year, as it would set the stage for Cooper to be called up; assuming he’s still with the organization.@nearlydenzil

  • Jared_Macdonald

    While I do agree with dbenson1399 that Cooper’s trade value could be at it’s max this offseason, it wouldn’t necessarily be a bad thing to keep him and have him start at Triple-A like you said.

    Doing so would give the Jays a few months to see what version of Adam Lind comes to the table…err…plate, and if Cooper continues to rake in Vegas and develop a power stroke, the Jays could give him a chance to prove himself at the big league level. An interesting loophole would be if Lind gets injured again next year, as it would set the stage for Cooper to be called up; assuming he’s still with the organization.@nearlydenzil

  • Jared_Macdonald

    @RonB.Rown I completely understand your thoughts Ron. I remember even when I slotted him in at 34 in our Top 50 Prospects list last year that I considered that generous.

    I think people have been so used to seeing Cooper fail to live up to the hype of being a first-round pick over from 2009-2010 that it came as a shock to see him succeed so much this past season. Cooper raked in a slew of accolades, most of which I touched on in the story, and it will be interesting to see how the organization handles him going forward as he’ll still be just 25 years old on Opening Day.

  • Jared_Macdonald

    @RonB.Rown I completely understand your thoughts Ron. I remember even when I slotted him in at 34 in our Top 50 Prospects list last year that I considered that generous.

    I think people have been so used to seeing Cooper fail to live up to the hype of being a first-round pick over from 2009-2010 that it came as a shock to see him succeed so much this past season. Cooper raked in a slew of accolades, most of which I touched on in the story, and it will be interesting to see how the organization handles him going forward as he’ll still be just 25 years old on Opening Day.

  • RonB.Rown

    @Jared_Macdonald Ah, well I hope what we saw this past year from him is the best reflection we’ve seen yet of his true, dependable ability level.

  • RonB.Rown

    @Jared_Macdonald Ah, well I hope what we saw this past year from him is the best reflection we’ve seen yet of his true, dependable ability level.