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Cardinals draft Cooper Hjerpe in the 1st round

A college lefty with a funky delivery

2020 Major League Baseball Draft Photo by Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images

First things first, it appears his name is pronounced like it sounds - Cooper. As for his last name, just make up a sound. No but seriously, I believe it is pronounced “jerpy” with a silent “h.” Workshop your best jokes while he’s in the minors, because you’re really going to have to stand out once he reaches the majors.

Which may be sooner than you think. Hjerpe was absolutely dominant in college, striking out 161 batters to just 23 walks in 103 innings. He has a very funky delivery, with an apt comparison to Josh Hader. For that reason, there is a fear that he will have to go to the bullpen, traditionally not what you want if you are drafting in the 1st round. BigJawnMize, who has been writing draft previews in the past couple weeks, does not like his delivery.

Cooper Hjerpe - Too much funk for my taste. I really think the armslot makes it difficult to develop different pitches so you are stuck with a fringy slider. Pass.

The delivery seems like the biggest risk. And it’s obviously very important. But as far as I can tell.... that’s about it? His stats make him a bit of an analytic darling, it’s just a matter of if it can translate. If he’s a good pick, we will probably see him the bullpen fairly soon. Not this year soon, but within a couple years soon.

And even though BigJawnMize is not a fan, other scouting stats are. Prospect Live on Hjerpe:

You can’t talk about Hjerpe without first discussing just how unique he is. It’s a sub-5-foot release height that he somehow manages to stay and ride the fastball. It’s legitimately a Josh Hader delivery. Hjerpe is polished with a low-90s heater, touching 95. He employs a hellacious sweeping slider and a solid-to-above average changeup. He limits walks and gets a ton of swing-and-miss on all three pitches. He’s been a mainstay in the OSU rotation since arriving to campus and represents one of the more consistent forces in the class. There’s loads of deception here and it’s an incredibly unique profile — some might go as far as to call it unicorn stuff. Model teams will love what he brings to the table. Definitive first round upside here.

MLB Pipeline:

While Hjerpe doesn’t light up radar guns, he does a have a full starter’s repertoire, a ton of deception and a huge competitive streak. His fastball will typically sit in the 91-93 mph range, occasionally touching a bit higher. It plays up because of a funky, cross-fire delivery that makes the ball hard for even right-handed hitters to pick up, and because he combines it with his breaking ball so well. It’s kind of a Laredo, coming from a low three-quarters slot, and Hjerpe can vary its shape. One is more of a slow sweeping curve, thrown in the mid-70s, and the other is tighter with more slider characteristics, thrown up around 80 mph. His average changeup features good fade and should be a weapon for him in the future.

Mason Macrae wrote something I found interesting on Hjerpe

Hjerpe is the classic pitch usage victim, except he’s so good even poor usage can’t stop him from shoving. Generally, pitchers who throw tons of fastballs have fringy secondary feel. This isn’t the case for Hjerpe, who has a high strike rate with his secondaries. Throwing 68% heaters, Hjerpe is somehow getting upper echeleon whiffs on the pitch while throwing it more than 86% of qualified pitchers..... Had Hjerpe been throwing more breakers/changeups - two pitches that combine for a similar amount of strikes - he’d likely have much better results. Given the fact that his sweeper and changeup combine for a 56% whiff rate and 43% zone rate, it’s safe to say he should be throwing those two pitches much more, and he will definitely be in pro ball.”

Baseball Cloud did a deep dive on Hjerpe, which I recommend reading (I’m not being allowed to embedd so apologies for how this is posted, but better than not giving you a link: ), but I’ll just post a snippet:

Another enticing part of Hjerpe is that he presents a great batted ball profile from hitters and has ideal outcomes of a high K% and higher GB%. His entire pitching operation and arsenal are tailor-made to generate whiffs and groundballs at a high clip. In his 2022 season, Hjerpe has 44% GB and 43% K rates. This is optimal for Hjerpe as it makes him less vulnerable to the long ball as he goes through pro ball and, inevitably, the big leagues.

Overall, with his combination of ceiling and floor, Hjerpe has arguably the best value of any college pitcher. As good as he is now, I believe there is much more to be obtained with Hjerpe. I’m all in on thinking he can get his fastball to sit more 92-94 with added strength and a big-league throwing program. Additionally, his new cutter this year provides a lot of flexibility with his arsenal in the near future. It gives him the potential of a fourth weapon to his already lethal arsenal. His cutter holds potential to be further developed and used at a higher rate giving him less reliance on his slider when facing hitters. The floor aspect of Hjerpe lies in the fact that because of his polish, he should need very little development in the minor leagues and can arguably be a bullpen weapon for a contending team in the late part of the MLB season

Would it be better if he had a traditional delivery? Well for the purposes of prospect risk, sure, although it’d be really cool if he was successful with this delivery as a starter, because I like uniqueness in baseball. But there’s enough positivity in these reports - from different sources - that I’m happy with the pick.