Sunday, June 04, 2006

Craig Cooper - Notre Dame, Senior

6'2", 220


199 AB 72 R 86 H 15 2B 3 3B 9 HR 37 RBI 134 TB 34 BB 14 K 9/15 SB

Craig Cooper was far and away the most impressive looking hitter in the Notre Dame starting lineup and looks to be a very good value (sleeper alert) in the upcoming draft. His at bat in the ninth inning against tiring Villanova starter Kevin Mulvey was a very nice piece of hitting, indicative of the approach he takes to the plate every with every at bat. The pitch sequence was as follows: fastball taken low (0-1), fastball taken at the knees (1-1), slow curve fouled off (1-2), single to center field on Mulvey’s best secondary pitch, the slider. The first two pitches of the at bat were nearly identical (both borderline strikes), but Cooper had the plate discipline to lay off the each of Mulvey’s heavy fastballs – something most hitters have been unable to do all year as evidenced by Mulvey’s well documented ability to induce groundballs early in the count.

Cooper’s batting stance vaguely resembles Jeff Bagwell’s famous crouch, though Cooper’s legs are a bit more upright than Bagwell’s deep knee bend. He is listed at 6’2’’, 220 although both numbers may be fudged a bit – he appeared to be a bit shorter and lighter than listed (as so often is the case). His status as a “tweener” with no definite position could be a factor come draft day. One of the big questions surrounding Cooper revolves around deciding on where to play him in the field. He was a two-time conference Gold Glove winner at center field in high school (Chaminade HS), played primarily in left field as a freshman, was converted to right field as a sophomore, split time almost evenly between left and right as a junior, and then made the switch to first base for his senior season. He is an excellent all around athlete who has the pure physical ability to play at either outfield corner or first base at the next level. Left field would seem to be the most likely landing spot for Cooper in the pros, unless a big league club believes he is capable of center field everyday; he has 8 career starts in center for the Fighting Irish and with 45 steals in his four years at Notre Dame he seemingly has the raw speed capable of holding his own in CF.

His unique batting stance, the “tweener” label, and lack of high end competition over his career all could dissuade teams from investing him in the draft. Luckily for Cooper, he has an extremely strong statistical resume that will be tough for certain sabermetrically inclined teams to ignore. Cooper finished the 2006 regular season with a .432/.529/.673 line with 9 homeruns in 199 at bats. He also drew 34 walks while only striking out 14 times. For his career, Cooper managed a 107/81 BB/K ratio while still putting up impressive power numbers (26 career homers). He is an advanced college bat who should be a fast riser in any minor league system so long as a definitive defensive position can be determined. If pro teams feel he can play center field, Cooper’s value as a prospect should skyrocket. If teams project him as a corner outfielder/first baseman, then his bat will be more highly scrutinized and he could drop to the later rounds.


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