One strikeout at a time: An interview with Blue Jays prospect Connor Cooke

Dunedin Blue Jays v Tampa Tarpons
Dunedin Blue Jays v Tampa Tarpons / Mike Ehrmann/GettyImages
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Confidence is key for Cooke

Speaking with the 23-year-old, who was drafted as a sophomore out of college, the reason for his success is apparent. Confidence drips from his voice through his thoughtful responses.

Not being a top draft pick or household name hasn’t slowed him from chasing his goals.

“The round I was drafted, I never really cared too much about it,” Cooke says when asked if it has been an uphill battle for him to advance in the system. “I feel as though my stuff is as good as anyone else's, so that's what I take to the mound, and it doesn't really change the mindset.”

That confident mindset was on display in his Grapefruit League debut. Two of the six batters he faced in that outing were bona fide big leaguers, Giancarlo Stanton and Gleyber Torres.

He struck out both.

Having never pitched above High-A, facing a slugger as prolific as Stanton could have intimidated the young reliever. The University of Louisiana Lafayette product was unfazed, calling the experience one of the coolest moments of his life.

“The adrenaline rush was insane; it was a lot of fun,” Cooke recalls. “I didn't really notice that it was Giancarlo in the box until right before the first pitch, which got me locked in a little bit.”

Locked in, indeed. Four sliders later, Stanton was heading back to the dugout as Cooke relished his first strikeout and received some encouragement from an unexpected source.

“After my first inning, Kevin Kiermaier came up to talk to me, telling me to trust in my stuff,” Cooke says excitedly. “That was pretty cool. He talked to me for a few minutes, just telling me my stuff's good enough and to trust it. That was a really cool moment.”

Cooke carried that experience into the season with the Vancouver Canadians. His recent promotion shines a light on just how dominant he was in High-A.

He tossed 9 1/3 innings in relief and had his way with hitters during his month in the Northwest League, posting a 2.89 ERA and 1.07 WHIP. He struck out 19 of the 39 batters he faced for a video game-like strikeout rate of 48.7%.

Canadians pitching coach Joel Bonnett has a very distinct first impression from when Cooke joined the team last August.

“My first impression of Connor was that he was a freak athlete with a very good fastball that could really spin the breaking ball,” says Bonnett. “I then started to learn that he may be one of the hardest workers in the organization and is super competitive in-game. If you put all of that together, you can see why he has been so successful.”