Michael Cooper Appears on Fast Track

Michael Cooper (TENNESSEE SMOKIES PHOTO)

There are many pitchers even in today's world of medicine and procedure that are never quite the same following shoulder surgery. Michael Cooper, who has gone from Class Low-A Boise into Double-A Tennessee in the blink of an eye, is not one of them.

Drafted in the 26th round in 2006 from California in the Pac 10 conference, the 24-year-old Cooper was set to begin his first full season of pro ball at Class-A Daytona a year ago, but season-ending surgery ended those plans after just three games.

When Cooper returned this spring and showed no rust, the Cubs sent him to Double-A. It highlighted what has to date been a fast track for a pitcher that had already skipped one level when the Cubs sent him to High-A last season.

So far this season, Cooper has rewarded the Cubs – and himself – by being one of the most effective relievers in their farm system. The right-hander has yielded earned runs in only two of 13 appearances and currently sports a 2.57 ERA with five saves and a .236 average against through 14 innings at Tennessee.

"I have felt really good," said Cooper. "I didn't know what to expect. Obviously it was my first shoulder surgery and hopefully my last. I know they said it takes some times over a year to get all the way back to where you want, assuming you ever do get back there. I've had little aches and pains, but nothing out of the ordinary."

Cooper's strong start has not gone unnoticed by the Cubs, who had no reservations about assigning him to Double-A despite his 2007 season being a wash.

"We thought his stuff was good enough to not have to worry about having him repeat A-ball, so we put him right where he is," Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita explained. "He's put himself in line to maybe be on a fast track to help with the major league club."

Cooper's velocity isn't all the way back yet, but the West Coast product has consistently sat 88-91 mph in games this season. Before the surgery, he was 92-93 mph, having topped out at 95 mph in the Northwest League at Boise in 2006.

And although Cooper missed a few weeks of playing time this season with a stint on the disabled list, it was not for reasons you might think.

"It had nothing to do with the shoulder, it was a groin thing," said Cooper. "The first couple of weeks in Knoxville, it was just freezing (and) nasty. I think one of the days it got down almost into the 30s. I was out there playing a good game. I went out for a save and got two outs in the ninth. Right as I struck out the guy for the second out of the inning, I felt a pop in the groin. I tried to stay out there and get things over, but it progressively got worse with each pitch and I ended up giving up two hits."

As a starter coming out of college, Cooper featured an assortment of pitches – his two-seam fastball, a slider, changeup, and a splitfinger. Since joining the Cubs, he has pitched exclusively in relief, and the bulk of his work has been sinker and slider.

Being a late-round pick meant that Cooper was passed over by a few clubs, but the Cubs know that where a player is drafted doesn't dictate what kind of prospect he is.

"Once you've got a Cubs uniform or a uniform in general, you've got a chance to play in the big leagues until somebody takes it from you," said Fleita.

Listed as 6-foot-6, 230 pounds, with a plus fastball and slider to boot, Cooper also has the body and the makeup to be considered a legit prospect. But he knows that where he goes from here is up to him and how he performs.

So far, he has been on a fast moving train.

"Hopefully I can stay on track and move up to Iowa, or Chicago," said Cooper.

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