They are two lanky, sweet-swinging, left-handed first basemen that won batting titles in their mid-20s.
Granted, David Cooper captured his in AAA last season, while longtime Blue Jay John Olerud topped the American League in hitting in 1993, but comparisons between the two soft-spoken infielders seem inevitable.
Like Cooper, the knock on Olerud throughout his 17-year big league career was that he didn't hit with enough power. But looking back now, most baseball pundits would agree that the Seattle native was an effective doubles machine - the kind of disciplined and productive hitter that Cooper, if given the opportunity, might blossom into.
Obviously, Cooper has a lot more to accomplish to be in Olerud's class - Johnny O recorded 500 doubles, 2,239 hits and a .398 on-base percentage (OBP) - but at the very least Cooper deserves an extended big-league look to see what kind of hitter he can become. And at 25 years old, he needs that opportunity now.
Over the past four years, Cooper has become the Rodney Dangerfield of Blue Jays prospects. The 2008 first-round pick gets little respect from the scouting community.
As a 24-year-old, he hit .364, posted a minor league-leading .439 OBP and racked up 51 doubles in AAA last season and still managed to drop a notch (from 21st in 2011 to 22nd in 2012) in Baseball America's annual ranking of the Jays' top prospects.
The significance of his batting title gets downplayed because it was recorded in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. And in the eyes of many talent evaluators, Cooper's high batting average is overshadowed by the fact that he belted just nine homers in 120 games last season.
But a .364 batting average is impressive in any professional league and a hitter-friendly ballpark doesn't enhance your plate discipline. In 2011, Cooper chalked up 67 walks, while striking out just 43 times.
What hurts Cooper the most, however, is that he's not the jaw-dropping, multi-tooled athlete that scouts drool over. On top of showcasing below average power for his position, Cooper, at six feet, 200 pounds, is unimposing, slow and average defensively. And though the Jays used their first-round pick (17th overall) on him in 2008, the University of California alumnus has never been as heralded as Olerud.
Cooper has spent parts of five seasons in the Jays' minor league system, including two years at AA New Hampshire attempting to rework his swing into a power stroke. In doing so, his batting average and OBP suffered. The California native also wasn't particularly impressive in two major league stints last season, hitting only .211 in 27 games.
But too much is made of what Cooper isn't. What he is, is a 25-year-old first baseman with excellent plate discipline, a short compact swing and the ability to drive the ball authoritatively to all fields. And thanks to a revamped off-season conditioning program, he has added muscle that seems to have paid dividends.
Cooper socked six homers in 42 contests at AAA before being recalled on May 24 and has two home runs in 53 big-league at- bats this season. If the Jays give him the opportunity, there's no reason to believe that he can't hit 10 more homers over the next four months.
Since being recalled, Cooper is hitting .302 and has posted a .351 OBP. His plate discipline, relatively high contact rate and gap-to-gap power offers a nice complement to a lineup built around power bats like J.P. Arencibia, Kelly Johnson, Edwin Encarnacion, Colby Rasmus and Jose Bautista who are all on pace to strike out more than 100 times this season.
It would be unfair to expect Cooper to hit .302 over the entire campaign. But given that he hit owns a .299 batting average and .374 OBP in parts of five minor league seasons, he seems capable of batting .270 to .280 and registering a .345 to .360 OBP at the big league level. And the fact that the Jays already receive above average home run output from their second baseman (Johnson) and catcher (Arencibia) should alleviate concerns about Cooper's lack of power.
It's also interesting to note that in an average season, Olerud hit .295, socked 18 homers, 36 doubles and recorded a .398 OBP. So while Cooper, who can also be used as a DH, has a long way to go to match the longtime Jays first baseman's career output, replicating an average Olerud season - outside of perhaps his OBP - doesn't seem all that farfetched.
The Jays' decision to release Vladimir Guerrero on Tuesday as well as their previous removal of Adam Lind from their 40-man roster, could be construed as votes of confidence for Cooper.
In the coming weeks, however, the club will have to make another move when Ben Francisco comes off the disabled list. Cooper should not be the player demoted at that time.
At 25 years old, the Rodney Dangerfield of Jays prospects needs an extended big-league look this season to see if he can develop into the next Olerud.
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