LHP Tim Cooney: Yet Another Cardinals Success Story
At this point it may feel like you’ve had enough. For fans of organizations that are not in St. Louis, it can be tough to look yourself in the mirror; knowing you’re a fan of an inferior product, that somewhere out there is a team that’s run the right way. The prospect pipeline bubbles and froths with new talent, forcing you to make tough decisions about letting your star players sign elsewhere rather than scrambling to retain them into their declines. St Louis and it’s Cardinals seem idyllic, their franchise bolstered by the fruits of it’s labors. Strong development begets strong play, and strong play begets winning records. If it seems like the guys who fail to make the Cards’ top prospect lists would be good enough to take top spots in weaker systems, that’s because it’s true. One such case in that regard is Tim Cooney, not even mentioned amongst St Louis’ top prospects to start the year had little to do with his substantial talent and more to do with the fact that too many guys had been afforded more time to put on a show for the brass and the prospect-hawks. After dominating the hitter-friendly Texas league this year with a 2.57 FIP over 118 IP (20 starts), and a slew of promotions for the Cardinals’ top prospects in 2013, I would expect that Cooney’s is a name we’ll be hearing a lot more coverage on going into the spring.
Cooney was taken in the 3rd round by the Cardinals in the 2012 draft as a college lefty on a down year. Draft day reports pegged his velocity between 88-91 and reports from Carson Cistulli as part of his Fringe Five series on Fangraphs indicate that he may have added a couple ticks to that so far in his time as a pro, clocking him more in the 90-93 range and providing this .gif of a disenfranchising and disturbing looking curve. He’s also reported to throw a cutter in the high 80s that flashes plus.
In his pro debut after being drafted, the Cards assigned Cooney directly to short-season Batavia to get some reps in before the offseason. He didn’t show a flashy strikeout number in his 55.2 innings there, but his easy, repeatable delivery, solid mechanics and trademark command all showed him to be a fairly prototypical Cardinals signing, posting a 3.13 FIP and walking less than 4% of the batters he faced. He opened the year at A+ and continued to put up similar results, walking only a batter per nine innings but also not flashing huge strikeout potential, only whiffing 5.75/9IP. This makes a Cliff Lee comp the obvious place to go, and these kind of rate stats from a lefty make it one that must be looked at. Once Lee started to rein in his BBs with Cleveland, he often put up strikeout rates around 6 per nine to go with walk rates around 2.5 or lower, and has gone on to learn to strike out batters more effectively, pushing that rate up as his career progressed. Cooney appeared to make some such discovery upon his promotion to AA, as he posted a vastly improved 9.51 K/9 rate in his 118 innings there. In spite of a high BABIP bloating his ERA in AA to 3.80, his FIP of 2.57 was his best yet as a pro, and continued his trend of posting nice, low defense independent stats at each level he’s seen. Video of his nice delivery (that has gotten even nicer) is here, albeit from his pre-draft days:
(Video: Northeast Baseball Prospects on Youtube)
Cooney’s noted increase in velocity could explain the big jump in whiffs, as research indicates that success by at least one measure (ratio of swinging strikes to home runs) is exponentially affected by an increase in fastball velocity. Also responsible could be his continued development in the Cardinals’ now famous incubator for turning promising young arms into quality big-league pitchers. We know the organization isn’t shy about giving it’s promising arms a shot to succeed at the highest level, and Cooney would shock no-one if he were given that chance once he proves that this year’s strikeout gains were at least partially sustainable. With a ceiling of a #3 type starter, Cooney’s exceptional command and excellent baseball acumen could easily see him outperform that projection in the bigs. He’s low-risk and there’s still some projectability there. After a very strong year, Cooney’s stock will have risen substantially and I wouldn’t be shocked to see him on every top Cardinals prospect list to open the season, if he hasn’t made the jump to the the Show, I’d expect an even bigger jump at midseason if he continues to strike batters out at an increased rate, placing him amongst the org’s top young players.
UPDATE FROM THE MAN HIMSELF:
@ProspectPrawn biggest reason was I learned a new curveball and started throwing it a lot more this year
— Tim Cooney (@T_Coons) November 25, 2013
Velocity and strengthening may have improved his game, but Cooney himself attributes his now-nastier stuff largely to the curve we spoke about. It’s no surprise that the organization that helped Wainwright develop his infamous buckler would have another promising prospect breaking off dirty curves like the one shown above, and it’s certainly no small wonder that a dirty pitch like that is capable of generating a lot of whiffs.
Summary: Unheralded left handed Cardinals prospect does what Cardinals prospects do and improves wildly, shattering own ceiling.
Bodes Well: Great repeatable mechanics, nice velocity, impeccable command for a young arm, ridiculous K/BB ratios, durable looking frame, low-risk
Portends Doom: Strikeouts could return to earth
Projected Arrival: September 2014
Arbitrary Prawngrade: B+