Highlighted by a one-hit shutout against the Iowa Cubs on May 29th, St. Louis Cardinals pitching prospect Tim Cooney experienced an up-and-down 2014 in his first season with the Triple-A Memphis Redbirds. Drafted in the third round of the 2012 MLB Draft, Cooney, the organization's #7 prospect according to Baseball America, aims to be the second member of his respective draft class to achieve a big-league promotion (behind Michael Wacha, of course).
Though all five spots in the starting rotation are accounted for at this point, it's still January, and it is likely, as Craig pointed out last December, that Cooney will make a handful of spot starts in 2015. If not the rotation, Cooney will probably spend some time in the St. Louis bullpen, similar to what we saw from Marco Gonzales last season.
Minor league statistics
After breezing his way through the lower levels of the minor leagues, Cooney faced a much tougher test with Memphis in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League. Averaging more than six innings per start, Cooney showed the durability needed to be a successful starting pitcher at the next level. One statistic to keep an eye on in 2015 will be his walk rate, as he experienced a pretty significant increase from where it was in previous seasons.
ZiPS really likes Cooney—projecting him to be worth 1.4 zWAR in 2015 despite having zero MLB experience to date. A projection as good as this one would be welcomed into the starting rotation of many other teams, so Cooney is definitely a nice luxury to have around as 2015 depth. The future is bright for the 24-year-old left-hander, and he is definitely a player to keep an eye on in spring training and beyond.
In his own words
Viva El Birdos: What are your thoughts on the implementation of the pitch clock?
Tim Cooney: I’m not sure what to think of it yet. Once I’ve seen it in action, obviously I will have a better opinion about it. From my understanding, the goal is to make the game more enjoyable for fans, which, at the end of the day, is extremely important because without them, we don’t have jobs.
VEB: The Cardinals used a lot of starters last year, but the timing never worked for you to get called up. What were your thoughts at the time? What was the organization telling you?
TC: There were times during the season when I would hear news about things happening with the big league team and wonder if I would get a shot but I learned that the less I think about that kind of stuff the better off I am. When you’re trying to manage the stress of pitching and competing and constantly thinking about things out of your control things can get really messy. I never heard anything directly from the organization but I know that the Cardinals are willing to give young guys a chance when they earn it.
VEB: What are your goals for spring training?
TC: I don’t have any specific statistical goals, but I do want to show that I am able to pitch out of the bullpen and hopefully show the big league staff that I’ve improved over the last year. I think last year I was a little overwhelmed with the whole experience in big league camp and that this year I will be a little bit better prepared for it. I know that when I pitch to my ability I can get good hitters out, so I just want to be consistent with my approach.
VEB: What have you spent the most time on in the offseason, both on baseball and away from the game?
TC: I use the offseason as a time to let my mind reset. All season I’m constantly thinking about baseball, and right now, I’m trying to actually stop thinking about as much as I can. I spend a good portion of my day either weight training or doing plyometric workouts, and for the last couple months, I’ve also been throwing and working on pitching. Away from the game, I try to spend time keeping in touch with my friends which can be hard when I am away from home for the majority of the year. I also try to just relax and dedicate some time to my hobbies like playing golf or playing guitar.
VEB: What is your primary focus in between starts?
TC: My primary focus is making sure I’m ready to go next start which means keeping my arm feeling good and having some feel for my delivery and pitches. I am tempted to try and tinker with things a lot of the time because I’m constantly looking to improve, but it’s hard to make major changes during the season without have some negative outcomes on the field.
VEB: You had a slight bump in walk rate last season. Was this a byproduct of more patient hitters at the AAA level or do you feel like you had issues with command at times?
TC: It was a result of me thinking too much and throwing too many fastballs. The hitters were a little bit better this year, but during the middle of the season, I felt like I had to put my fastball on a dime for it not to get hit hard which made me get behind in the count a lot. At the end of the season, I started throwing more cutters and stopped trying to place my fastball too finely, and I stopped walking people.
VEB: What is the overarching pitching philosophy that guides what you do on the mound?
TC: My overarching goal with pitching is to limit runs scored. I do pay attention to sabermetric stats like FIP, and I do base a lot of my pitching philosophy on minimizing it, but I do also believe that the sabermetric pitching stats miss a lot of things that go into reducing runs scored. I pay a lot of attention to weak/hard contact, strikeouts, walks, and situational pitching.
VEB: To get to where you want to go as a pitcher, what is one thing that needs the most improvement?
TC: I think my changeup has the most room for improvement. I believe that it can be a strikeout pitch to righties, and that if I can make it a swing and miss pitch, it would make me a more well-rounded pitcher. Last season, I didn’t have a put away pitch for righties and adding a swing and miss changeup would really help my strikeout rate and effectiveness against right-handed hitters.
VEB: What is the best advice you've ever received (in baseball or life in general)?
TC: Live in the moment. I think its’ really important to enjoy life that’s occurring around you now. When you are constantly looking forward to things, you can miss out on awesome experiences happening right in front of you.
VEB: Which pitch do you feel most comfortable going to with a lefty at the plate? How about a righty?
TC: My cutter is my bread and butter versus lefties. It has a bit of a slider break to it at 85-87, and it gets a lot of foul balls, ground balls, and swing and misses. It really helped me get comfortable pitching to lefties this past season. Against righties, it’s probably either my fastball or curveball, depending on the count. Early in the count, I like trying to locate a fastball, and later, I like trying to get them with a curveball.
VEB: As we saw with Marco Gonzales last season and probably again this season, pitching prospects may start their big league careers out of the bullpen. What about your repertoire/approach makes you a viable candidate for a big-league bullpen position?
TC: I think my stuff would play well out of the bullpen. I think I could feed off the adrenaline and maybe add a tick or two to each of my pitches which a lot of starters do when they switch to the ’pen. I haven’t had the chance other than last spring, so I’m excited for spring training to get another shot pitching out of the ’pen.
VEB: If you could "steal" one pitch from an active big leaguer, which would it be and why?
TC: Easily Aroldis Chapman’s fastball. It is the most dominant pitch in the game. If we are talking starting pitchers, then I would have to go with Clayton Kershaw’s slider. Both of those pitches rarely get put in play and are effective against lefties and righties.
VEB: Since we are all quite curious, who is the better dancer? You or Marco. If you can, please rank the top three dancers in the organization as well.
TC: This is an interesting question. I’ve only seen Marco dance once and he isn’t bad, but I think pretty highly of myself as a dancer, so I’ll give myself the nod there. I don’t know if I can do a top three, but I’ll rank Tommy Pham somewhere in the top three, for sure.
I am thankful for the thoughtful and thorough answers provided by Cooney for this post. I wish him the best in the future and look forward to seeing him don the Birds on the Bat. Feel free to follow him on Twitter: @T_Coons.