Prior to their series opener against the Rangers in Arlington, the Blue Jays made a flurry of roster moves on Friday, calling up first baseman David Cooper and right-handed reliever Ryota Igarashi from Triple-A Las Vegas. To make room for both players, left-handed reliever Evan Crawford was optioned to Las Vegas and Dustin McGowan, who inked an unexpected contract extension at the end of March, has been transferred to the 60-day disabled list. Nursing a left hamstring strain, outfielder Ben Francisco was placed on the 15-day disabled list as well.
Cooper, 25, will kick off his third stint with the Blue Jays after making a pair of visits to Toronto last year, when he hit .211/.284/.394. That line is somewhat deceiving, though, as Cooper’s 13-game stint at the beginning of the 2011 season brings down the .289 average and .851 OPS that he put up during his 14-game stint in September.
In addition to winning the Pacific Coast League batting title last year with a .364 average at Triple-A Las Vegas, Cooper became only the fifth player in over 50 years to hit more than 50 doubles in a season. The 2008 first round pick also drew a career-high 67 walks and led the league with a .439 on-base percentage in 120 games.
Returning to Triple-A this season with Adam Lind blocking his way, Cooper hasn’t replicated his 2011 success, but has still been effective at the plate. While his strikeout rate is slightly higher, his walk rate is nearly identical to last year, and he’s continued to drive in runs. The biggest knock on Cooper last season, though, was that he only hit nine home runs; far from acceptable for a first baseman, even with so many doubles.
Talking to Cooper in spring training, he told me that he revamped his offseason workouts to get stronger in hopes of turning a few more of his doubles into home runs. The plan seems to have paid off, as the California native has already belted six home runs in 42 games this season after hitting nine in 120 games in 2011. Cooper does, however, have one glaring split this season, which is his .177 average and .654 OPS in 16 games away from Cashman Field this season.
Even though he hasn’t racked up the ideal power numbers from a first baseman, I feel Cooper will still be a useful addition to the Jays, providing he gets an extended look this time around. His eye at the plate will instantly be one of the best on the team, and after seeing so many free-swinging players on the Jays this season, I think it will be somewhat of a refreshing change.
Igarashi, signed as a minor league free agent by the Pirates in December after spending his entire major league career with the Mets, was shipped to the Blue Jays for cash back on March 30. The 32-year-old likely drew attention from general manager Alex Anthopoulos because of the impressive numbers he put up with Triple-A Buffalo in 2011, and he’s been even better for Las Vegas this season.
In 21 innings for the 51s, Igarashi has compiled a 1.29 ERA with 28 strikeouts to three walks. His 12 strikeouts per nine innings are a career-high and his 1.3 BB/9 is his lowest mark since coming over from Japan in 2008. More impressively, Igarashi has not given up a home run and allowed just 10 hits all season in the hitter-friendly confines of Cashman Field and the Pacific Coast League, limiting opposing hitters to a mere .139 average.
After Crawford gave up six earned runs on 10 hits with four walks in just 7 1/3 big league innings, the move to send him down certainly made sense. With Igarashi in the fold, it adds a new arm with big league experience to a Blue Jays bullpen that is currently one of the worst in the majors right now, despite getting overhauled during the offseason. Igarashi will replace Crawford nicely and see more time against left-handed hitters, but his splitter can generate a ground ball from any hitter.