Square Peg, Round Hole: The Unfortunate Problem With Craig Cooper

By Editorial Staff

Few hitters in the Padres system, and even the entire minor leagues, can boast as hot a start as Triple-A Portland’s first baseman, 25-year-old Craig Cooper.

Cooper hit a strong .312/.405/.451 last year at Double-A San Antonio, and is off to a sizzling .471/.500/.941 start this year, with two homers in six games.

Unfortunately, Cooper’s destiny is probably Quadruple-A.

Wait, Nathaniel! You think Quad-A is bad! Your email, for Christ’s sake, is no.more.quad.a@gmail.com! How can you say that?

Sure, it seems weird for me to condemn players to Quad-A status. I railed against the Padres keeping Jack Cust and Jon Knott in the minors in 2006. I wished Gabe DeHoyos and Carlos Guevara were given shots in 2008 and 2009.

Quad-A is natural. There has to be a line between the majors and the minors somewhere, and there’s no doubt that some players are right around that line.

It’s when players like Cust, Knott, DeHoyos, and Guevara–whose minor league numbers all showed that they were really quite a way above the line, that I get angry. Nobody should be putting up 1.000 OPS marks or 12 K/9 and not get a solid two or three month trial in the majors.

And if Craig Cooper finds a way to hit that well, then he should get his shot too.

However, there are quite a few things working against the former Notre Dame star.

Cooper, first off, is 25 and just reaching Triple-A. The .405 OBP of last year is necessary for a 24-year-old in Double-A to even stay on the radar. It’s what’s expected from a 24-year-old in Double-A if he’s to be taken seriously. One misstep at this sort of advanced age and he’s in trouble.

Second, and perhaps more fairly and importantly, is that Cooper is a career .307/.392/.450 hitter. That’s a .143 ISO. The guy hit 10 homers in 2007 while spending the whole year in the Cal League. He managed just 11 last year.

As a first baseman, Cooper would have to be a Mark Grace-level defender and contact guy to be of much use. Plus, he’s blocked at that position by Adrian Gonzalez and Kyle Blanks.

He’s seen some time in the outfield, but Petco Park isn’t the place to be playing a converted first baseman in the pastures. Yes, the Padres have done it with Blanks, but Blanks is a far better hitter than Cooper.

It’s unfortunate for Cooper, because he controls the strike zone well and could be a .280/.370/.400 sort of player, which has its uses. Right now, his best-case scenario looks like he becomes the next Oscar Salazar, and like Salazar, he’ll need some luck to catch a big league break.

Maybe the Padres should see if he can play second base (Just kidding).